June was declared National Ocean Month in a proclamation by President Obama on May 31. Since then, a number of bills relevant to the ocean science community made their way through Congress, including one that became law. The original 1967 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Science Foundation (NSF), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, to disclose governmental records at citizens’ requests. Last week, a bill to improve the government’s responses to FOIA requests, S. 337, the FOIA Improvement Act, was signed into law by the president. The new law will codify a “presumption of openness” within federal agencies, with changes that include reducing available exemptions, clarifying procedures for frequently-requested documents, creating a single government website for record requests, and making records available electronically.
At this stage in the fiscal year, funding the federal government should be among the top priorities for lawmakers; however, gridlock continues to cloud most of the 12 appropriations bills. Several of the spending bills tie to ocean science funding; however, the only one of those that made gains last month was the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 5293). The defense appropriations bill funds the defense agencies, which includes Navy research and development, and it passed the House with a vote of 282-138, despite a veto threat by President Obama over concerns for limited science funding and other objectionable items.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved carefully drafted legislation from Senators Cory Gardner (CO) and Gary Peters (MI) to reauthorize the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology Education and Science (COMPETES) Act. The reauthorizing bill, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, S. 3084, is critically important for the success of our nation’s science and technology sectors since it authorizes funding for, not only NSF, but also the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The senators encouraged input from stakeholders, including scientists, nongovernmental organizations, government advisory bodies, and industry partners through the committee’s Innovation and Competitiveness Working Group. They ultimately crafted legislation, supported by numerous scientific organizations, including the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, that does not include directorate-level funding for NSF nor require that projects selected for federal support fall in the “national interest.” Another piece of legislation relating to our nation’s major science-mission agency is the NSF Major Research Facility Reform Act of 2016, H.R. 5049, which would provide additional oversight of future large NSF construction projects. The bill passed the House with nearly unilateral support (412 to 9) after being unanimously reported out of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee this spring.
In addition to the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, two other ocean science education initiatives have been introduced. Senator Edward Markey (MA) authored the Climate Change Education Act (S. 3074) to authorize NOAA to establish a climate change education program. The bill would create a curriculum for people of all ages, not just students, and would use formal and informal teaching methods to further understanding about anthropogenic climate change, mitigation strategies, and the current state of climate science. On the House side, H.R. 5583, the University Regulation Streamlining and Harmonization Act of 2016 would eliminate hardships that university researchers face due to excessive federal regulations. A National Science Board study showed 42 percent of research faculty members’ time is spent on non-research activities, so the bill aims to increase researcher effectiveness by decreasing regulatory burdens.
Ocean and coastal management legislation has also been moving through both chambers of Congress. In the Senate, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation passed a number of bills. Ranking Member Bill Nelson’s (FL) Coastal Coordination Act of 2016 (S. 3038) would reauthorize the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972. The CZMA promotes coordination on economic and resource management topics between state and federal governments along the coast and Great Lakes and has needed reauthorization since 1999. The Marine Mammal Research and Response Act of 2016 (S. 3059) would reauthorize and increase funding for organizations that rescue and rehabilitate sick or injured marine mammals, and the Marine Debris Act Amendments of 2016 (S. 3086) would amend the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act of 2006 to promote international action to reduce harmful marine debris. Two fishing-related bills, Access for Sportfishing Act of 2016 (S. 3099) and American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act (S. 3087), were also approved by the committee. S. 3099 would block the National Park Service from forming a large fishing-free (except for invasive lionfish) marine reserve in Biscayne National Park to keep the area open for recreational fishers. The American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act would generate a committee to facilitate fishing industry input to the National Marine Fisheries Service research and development grantmaking process. Meanwhile, the House passed H.R. 4582, the Save Our Salmon Act to protect endangered salmon in California’s Central Valley by removing existing protections afforded to striped bass under the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) of 1992. Finally, newly introduced H.R. 5577, the Innovation in Offshore Leasing Act, would allow the BOEM to offer offshore leases online.
Access the updated legislative tracker here: http://oceanleadership.org/leg-tracker-last-updated-5july2016/