House Committee Limits Earth And Ocean Funding

2016-05-27T11:40:57+00:00 May 27, 2016|
Representative Sam Farr (CA-20) blamed the lack of science funding on a “trend to attack the oceans.” (Credit: Wikimedia)

(Click to enlarge) Representative Sam Farr (CA-20) blamed the lack of science funding on a “trend to attack the oceans.” (Credit: Wikimedia)

The House Appropriations Committee continued its efforts to pass the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the U.S. government this week by marking up the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017. The committee passed the bill by voice vote, which contains $56 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $279 million over Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 and $1.4 billion above the president’s request. The bill includes funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Members of both parties supported the proposed overall increase in funding; NASA would be funded at its highest rate ever, which Chairman Harold Rogers (KY-5) celebrated. However, Democrats found numerous areas of concern. CJS Subcommittee Ranking Member Mike Honda (CA-17) expressed concern with the hit to earth and ocean sciences, including the 12 percent decrease in earth science funding. Representative Sam Farr (CA-20) blamed this lack of funding on a “trend to attack the oceans.” House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (NY-17) believes the purposeful underfunding of earth sciences is also caused by “a continued disbelief in the seriousness of climate change.”

If the bill becomes law, the Commerce Department would receive $9.1 billion, a reduction of $194 million below the FY 2016 enacted level and $677 million below the president’s request. Within the Commerce Department, NOAA would be funded at $5.6 billion, $185 million below the 2016 enacted level and $268 million below the administration’s request. However, funding cuts are not distributed evenly throughout NOAA programs: the National Weather Service proposed funding level is $1.1 billion ($12 million above the president’s request), and full funding is proposed for other weather programs, including the Joint Polar Satellite System weather satellite program and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite program. To make these investments, the bill reduces funding for several programs, including NOAA climate research and ocean services. The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would receive $435.6 million ($26 million below last year’s enacted funding level). NOAA Education would be funded at $24.4 million, $8 million above the president’s request. The Procurement, Acquisition, and Construction account would be provided $370 million for the Polar Follow-On project (level funding from FY 2016 and $23 million below the president’s request) and the Space Weather Follow-on would see $2.5 million. According to Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23), funding climate research can help coastal regions plan for the impacts of climate change, and “We simply can’t afford to shirk from this challenge.” Rep. Farr espoused the importance of the oceans, “If the oceans fail, the planet dies. Weather comes from the oceans, our clean air comes from the oceans, tourism depends on the oceans.”

The committee urged NOAA to increase the use of autonomous gliders in observational oceanographic research and to procure additional gliders as appropriate. They also called for NOAA to focus on conservation of corals and coral reef ecosystems within U.S. waters under the competitive external research program and rejected the proposed elimination of the tsunami hazard mitigation program. The committee further encouraged NOAA to fund academia to perform independent climate model evaluation studies to enable the production of atmospheric data sets from satellite observations.

The bill would decrease funding for NSF by appropriating $7.4 billion for the agency, $57 million below the FY 2016 enacted level and $158 million below the president’s request. NSF is a primary source of federal support for U.S. university research. It also is responsible for significant shares of the federal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education program portfolio and federal STEM student aid and support. NSF’s Research and Related Activities line would increase by $45.8 million over last year’s enacted level to $6 billion to target programs that foster innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness, including funding for research on advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, and neuroscience and for STEM education. However, significant cutbacks for equipment and construction costs were proposed. Opponents of the bill, Ranking Member Lowey (NY-17) and Representative Barbara Lee (CA-13), claim that it makes “reductions to NSF that will stall its research capabilities” and “falls short of funding … cutting edge science,” respectively.  The committee also directed $48 million for the International Ocean Drilling Program. The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account would be funded at $87.1 million ($106 million below the president’s request) and does not include funding for two new regional class research vessels. The Education and Human Resources line is proposed to be $880 million (flat funded from last year’s enacted).

While NOAA and NSF would be tightening their belts, this bill would fund NASA at a record $19.5 billion for FY 2017, $223 million above last year’s enacted level and $1.2 billion above the president’s request. NASA Science programs would be provided $5.6 billion, $8 million above last year’s enacted level and $295 million above the president’s request, including $1.7 billion is for earth science, $1.9 billion for planetary science, $792 million for astrophysics, and $699 million for heliophysics. The bill targets funding to planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics to ensure the continuation of critical research and development programs while reducing funding for programs that Republicans on the committee consider to be producing lower-priority research.

CJS subcommittee Ranking Member Honda offered and withdrew four amendments, including one that would ensure U.S. competitiveness in the global technology economy by increasing NSF research funding by $593 million. Another one of his amendments would increase funding for earth science to meet the president’s request. CJS subcommittee Ranking Member Honda explained, “Research in earth sciences protects lives, economies, and infrastructure,” and “Earth science funding is a stimulant to the American economy.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version of the bill, S. 2837, out of committee last month.