House Interior Appropriations Bill Passes With Anti-National Ocean Policy Amendment

2017-12-12T13:11:34+00:00 July 18, 2016|
Big Sur coastline looking north to Bixby Canyon Bridge. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. (Credit: NOAA/Wikipedia Commons)

(Click to enlarge) Big Sur coastline looking north to Bixby Canyon Bridge. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. (Credit: NOAA/Wikipedia Commons)

On the House floor this week, Representatives Chellie Pingree (ME-1) and James Langevin (RI-2) spoke vehemently in support of the National Ocean Policy (NOP), with the congresswoman calling it a “vital tool … to help ensure that our coastal communities and their stakeholders work together and coordinate their ideas and make plans to achieve local goals.”

The representatives were speaking in support of the administration’s plan to help protect and restore our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes because Representative Bradley Byrne (AL-1) added an amendment to the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017, H.R. 5538, that would ensure none of the funds in the bill could be used to “implement, administer, or enforce” NOP. The amendment passed on an almost-party line vote, with one Democrat crossing the aisle to vote in favor of the harmful amendment and six Republicans voting against its passage. 

The Interior Appropriations bill, which funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and agencies within the Department of the Interior (DOI), including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) passed the House with another nearly partisan vote of 231 for and 196 against. In a nine-page statement of administration policy, the White House threatened to veto the bill, citing concerns that include underfunding core EPA and DOI programs, a failure to invest in oil spill prevention and preparedness, and “highly unacceptable” policy riders that undermine environmental protections.

In terms of funding, the top line number remained consistent with what was previously approved by the House Appropriations Committee:  $32.1 billion for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, which is $64 million below the FY 2016 enacted level and $1 billion below the president’s budget request. Several agencies’ funding levels would take a hit compared to last year’s enacted numbers, including BOEM (drops $1.5 million to $169.3 million) and EPA (falls $164 million to $7.98 billion). Alternately, BSEE would receive $190 million ($196,000 above the FY 2016 enacted level), and USGS would receive 1.08 billion ($18 million above the FY 16 enacted level). Click here for more information on funding levels (note that these numbers were approved in the committee report; we will update if any changes are made).

The NOP amendment was one of 131 that were slated for votes on the House floor, many of which are also of interest to the ocean sciences community. Unfortunately, most of these have negative impacts on ocean and atmospheric health, as well as science and education. These include reduced efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions, a prohibition on the designation of National Marine Monuments in the exclusive economic zone, and a number of limitations on regulations enforcing energy exploration, including in the Arctic. However, Representative Alan Grayson (FL-9)’s amendment to increase funding for the National Estuary Program was adopted, as was Representative Shelia Jackson Lee (TX -18) amendment to prohibit the use funds to limit outreach programs administered by the Smithsonian Institution. A full list of amendments can be found here.

The Senate Interior Appropriations bill has been approved by the Appropriations Committee but has not seen floor time. The earliest that the Senate could take up their bill would be September 6, the first day that they will be back from their summer recess. However, given the differences between the House bill and the version that made it through Senate Appropriations, significant conferencing will need to be undertaken before the bill could find its way to the president’s desk.