In April, Congress began the annual budget and appropriations process in earnest, with House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) expressing hope to pass all 12 appropriations bills on time, a feat not accomplished for the past 20 years. The House began debate on two bills this week including the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which would cut funding for clean energy programs while also opposing the Administrations Waters of the United States rule, which EPA is writing to clarify which streams and wetlands fall under the protection of the Clean Water Act. Democrats have indicated that they will oppose all appropriations measures that fall within the sequester-level spending caps. The Republican Budget Resolution and appropriation allocations assume adherence to the sequester level caps, making it likely that any spending bills passed by Congress will not be bipartisan and may be vetoed by the President.
This month, the House Science Committee approved two bills that would cut funding for the geo and earth sciences. The first, is the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806), was marked-up and approved last week. The legislation would increase the budget of specific NSF directorates, including biology, chemistry, physics, computer sciences, engineering, and mathematics programs, but would reduce that of social, behavioral, and economic sciences (by 45 percent) and geosciences (by eight percent). Ocean Leadership expressed our concerns in two letters to the Committee before markup. The bill is expected to be on the House floor as early as May 11th. The second bill approved along party lines by the House Science Committee was H.R. 2039, the NASA Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017, which would cut funding for Earth Science between 18-32 percent, depending on whether the discretionary spending caps are lifted the cut could be as much as $320 million. The bill is also expected to reach the House floor for consideration in May. The bill is in sharp contrast to a bi-partisan reauthorization bill (H.R.810) introduced in February.
This month, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015 (S. 544) in a 11-9-party-line vote with one amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) that would remove the censorship of common terms, such as “climate change” and “global warming,” from official documents. The bill would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible. Democrat Members of the Committee strongly opposed S. 544 and critiqued the problematic language inserted in the bill, which would compromise scientific studies and change the way the EPA uses scientific data.
This month marked the five year anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which spurred the onset of four oil related hearings. First, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing to examine the impacts of President Obama’s offshore energy plan. Several Republican Members of the Subcommittee expressed dismay over decreased oil production on federal lands and unanimously insisted on a need to increase leasing sales on the outer continental shelf. The full Committee then held a hearing to discuss innovations in safety since the 2010 Macondo blowout. Republicans on the Committee spoke about safer standards for deep-water drilling that have voluntarily been introduced by the industry and by federal regulations. However, experts in a hearing by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and during a briefing, held by the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Spills in the Environment, announced that the catastrophic impacts of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill had allowed the science of oil spills (and thus response strategies) to evolve, but several gaps remain as the research is complex and requires more work to improve response and recovery after an oil spill. Scientists identified a need for environmental baselines, studies to understand the behavior of oil, and improved efforts (by the oil industry) to properly calculate oil flow at the start of a drilling cycle.
In addition to these hearings, several oil-related bills were introduced in Congress. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) introduced the Foreign Spill Protection Act of 2015 (H.R. 1684), which amends the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to impose penalties and provide for the recovery of removal costs and damages in connection with certain discharges of oil from foreign offshore units. H.R. 1951 was introduced by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) to prohibit the use of hydraulic fracturing or acid well stimulation treatment in the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf Region until the Secretary of the Interior prepares an environmental impact statement and conducts a study with respect to such practices. Three bills were introduced that modify the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Lands Act; the Florida Coastal Protection Act (H.R. 1895), introduced by Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), would prohibit oil and gas preleasing, leasing, and related activities in certain areas of the OCS off the coast of Florida, and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced H.R. 1977 and S. 1042 to permanently ban offshore drilling on the OCS in the Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, and North Atlantic areas. Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1952 to permanently prohibit oil and gas leasing off the coast of the State of California.
Some other noteworthy bills were introduced this month. The STEM Education for the Global Economy Act of 2015 (S. 867) was introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to improve student academic achievement in STEM subjects. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) sponsored the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act (H.R. 1561). Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1961 to authorize NOAA to establish a Climate Change Education Program. There were also several bills introduced in Congress to enhance research in renewable ocean energy technology. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced S. 1058 to promote research, development, and demonstration of marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy technologies, and S. 1057 to promote geothermal energy. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) introduced H.R. 1870, which authorizes Energy Innovation Hubs to advance innovative technologies that produce energy from solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, tidal, wave, ocean, or other renewable energy resources.