Marching Through April: This Month’s Ocean And Science Related Legislation

2017-05-01T17:26:50+00:00 May 1, 2017|
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science passed their FY 2017 bill by voice vote (Credit: Architect of the Capitol)

(Click to enlarge)  (Credit: Architect of the Capitol)

The big science story of the month was the March for Science on Earth Day, during which droves of lab-coated scientists and allies across scientific disciplines took to the streets around the globe in support of science and evidence-based decision making. Congress was busy as well, despite a two-week spring recess. Upon their return to session, H.Res.273 was immediately introduced to recognize the principles and goals of the March for Science and to show support for evidence-based policymaking; scientific research; and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education — adding to a list of science legislation that was introduced or moved through the chambers this month.

Making headlines in the natural hazard world was the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 (H.R. 353, PL 115-25), the first major weather legislation to be signed into law in over two decades. The bill improves the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s weather, radar, hurricane, and tornado research, and tsunami warning systems through advances in observational, computing, and modeling capabilities and expands commercial opportunities for the provision of weather data.  The law strengthens weather pattern predictions by developing forecasts on timescales from two weeks to up to two years and improves coordination and focus on moving research into operations. Title 5 of the bill incorporates Representative Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1)’s Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act (H.R. 312) to better prepare coastal communities for tsunamis, from improved detection and warning systems to response and resiliency. The bipartisan legislation passed both chambers by voice vote early in the month and was signed into law on April 18. Tsunami preparation was also addressed in the Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act of 2017 (H.R.654), which passed the House with bipartisan support. The bill, which proposes to authorize the purchase of an earthquake early warning system for the Cascadia Subduction Zone, also calls for the creation of an Earthquake and Tsunami Task Force to develop a national to prepare for, mitigate, and recover from a tsunami.

Not everything sailed through with bipartisan camaraderie this month. Following a sweeping executive order in late March that targeted climate regulations, two contentious bills  that challenged environmental regulations and their underpinning science passed the House with votes split along party lines. The sponsors of the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment (HONEST) Act (H.R.1430) and the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017 (H.R.1431) state their bills support publicly-available data and encourage sound, transparent science to inform environmental regulations while keeping special interest groups off the Science Advisory Board. However, opponents are vehement that they will not perform their stated purpose and will instead jeopardize the ability of the EPA to make informed decisions and to gather diverse, quality, peer-reviewed science with which to craft necessary regulations. You can read more about COL’s concerns with the HONEST Act here.

A fresh batch of bills relevant to the ocean science community were introduced this month. Two were specifically targeted at stopping ocean oil drilling. The Florida Coastal Protection Act (H.R. 2002) would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (P.L. 106–580) to prohibit oil and gas drilling in certain areas of Florida’s outer continental shelf, and Representative Jared Huffman (CA-2)’s Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act of 2017 (H.R. 1784) would do just what its name says by prohibiting the issuance of new or renewed leases. Another anti-ocean-drilling bill was introduced in the Senate as the Keep It in the Ground Act of 2017 (S.750), which would prohibit drilling in the outer continental shelf and on federal land. Heading inland, several bills focused on the Great Lakes resources and fisheries. The Great Lakes and Fresh Water Algal Bloom Information Act (H.R. 1893) aims to study the causes of algal blooms in the Great Lakes and to evaluate mitigation efforts by having NOAA compile relevant research and information in an online database. The bipartisan Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization Act of 2017 (S. 859) would direct the U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center to conduct critical research in support of sport and commercial fishing industries.

In response to various coastal program cuts outlined in the president’s proposed budget, science-minded Members of Congress are taking a stand. In the Senate, support for the National Sea Grant College Program was expressed with S.Res.124, lauding the program’s value in protecting and enhancing coastal communities and the nation’s economy. The resolution was another move by Members of Congress to increase the visibility of the importance of ocean science, outreach, and communication.

Access the updated legislative tracker here.