October’s Congressional Wrap Up

2017-11-30T15:28:24+00:00 November 6, 2017|
US Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. (Credit: Kevin Burkett/Flickr)

(Click to enlarge) US Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. (Credit: Kevin Burkett/Flickr)

What Passed

Two bills in COL’s legislative tracker were signed into law this month. The timely H.R. 1117 (P.L.115-69) aims to increase reliability of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) post-disaster. It requires the agency to create a plan, which includes identifying new technologies to facilitate response partnerships between federal, state, tribal, and non-profit responders, for consistent and timely guidance during disaster response.

A $36.5 billion aid package (H.R. 2266; P.L. 115-72) following the landfall of several major hurricanes included $16 billion in debt forgiveness for the National Flood Insurance Program. This allows the program to continue paying claims without reaching its $30.4 billion borrowing cap. On September 8, Congress had approved $15.25 billion in emergency funding to provide immediate response and recovery for hurricane-ravaged communities.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA; P.L.93-205) was critiqued this month as two bills that would limit species’ listings passed out of committee. One (H.R. 717) would require consideration of the economic impact before listing a species and the other (H.R. 1274) would require the release of data used to make listing decisions. Republicans on the committee maintained these actions will provide needed transparency, while Democrats worried the bills challenge the work of scientists and insert unnecessary politics into the listing process.

What’s New

The BASIC Research Act (S. 1973)  would alter the grant review process at the National Science Foundation (NSF) by adding to the review panels someone who works in a field unrelated to the proposed work and a taxpayer advocate, replace NSF’s Office of Inspector General with an entity to randomly select proposals to ensure their “value to the taxpayer,” and call for all federal grant applications to be made public.

In the wake of natural disasters this year, a new bill in the House (H.R. 4062) joins its counterpart, which already passed the Senate (S. 110),  in authorizing the continuation and improvement of the Digital Coast Project by providing coastal communities with new mapping data to create and update costal maps and geospatial data.

October 8 through October 14, 2017 was designed Earth Science Week (H.Res.566) to promote an understanding of the ways people affect and are impacted by Earth’s systems.

What’s Next

The short-term continuing resolution (H.R. 601) currently funding the federal government expires on December 8, giving lawmakers just over a month to come up with a second stopgap spending bill or to come to agreement on appropriations.  Senate Appropriations Committee members have said they believe with the focus in the Senate on tax reform, there will likely be a six- to eight-week extension to the continuing resolution. 

In September, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (H.R. 2810) passed the House and Senate. Conferees from both chambers began meeting during the last week of October to come to agreement on a single bill, which will then have to pass both chambers before going to the president’s desk.

The Fiscal Year 2018 Congressional Budget Resolution (H.Con.Res71) was adopted by the House and Senate this month. This nonbinding resolution provides a framework for the appropriations process (which is already underway) but does not appropriate money or change the spending caps laid out by the Budget Control Act of 2011. While it is mainly serving as a vehicle for tax reform through directions to committees known as reconciliation instructions, the resolution includes a provision that many expect will allow a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to be opened to energy exploration. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee held a tense hearing on opening a portion (2,000 acres) of the 1002 area, a 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, to energy exploration and extraction. The highly partisan hearing highlighted differing opinions on the economic value and the impact to native people and wildlife and sets the stage for a markup of the bill, which is expected later this week.

 

Related coverage from the Consortium For Ocean Leadership:

 

Want to read more stories like this one? This ran in COL’s weekly newsletter, Ocean News Weekly: Week of November 6, 2017 – Number 389. Read this newsletter in full here, and sign up to receive it in your inbox here.