The President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget was unveiled earlier this month. The budget request included healthy increases for the ocean science agencies including: NSF (+5.2%), NOAA (+9.8%), and NASA (+2.9%). However, it should be noted that the President’s budget assumes an additional $71 billion in spending above the current budget caps, which can only be accomplished if equal savings are realized elsewhere in the budget or revenues increase from changes to tax policy. Funding tables outlining the President’s budget request for each agency are available here. Congress began its annual budget hearings this month scrutinizing the President’s request for NOAA, NASA, and the Navy. Details on these hearings will be available in our next weekly newsletter.
This week, a budget hearing was held in the House Transportation and Infrastructure to discuss the President’s FY 2016 budget request for the U.S. Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Programs. Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation programs suffered large funding cuts in the proposed budget. Witnesses noted that cuts in training budget and active reserve will put a strain on the Coast Guards ability to respond to such security missions. Also, with changing ice patterns in the Arctic there will be new frontiers for Polar Regions; opening the Arctic to navigation will place additional demands on the Coast Guard as they will have to maintain polar access. However, there is not funding for new icebreakers in the FY 2016 budget request.
This month, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) budget request for FY 2016. While Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) praised the DOI’s budget, calling it “a balanced and forward-leaning proposal that creates jobs and long-term economic opportunity,” several Republicans objected the proposal. Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) accused the Department of being unjust towards Alaska and Gulf Coast states with their plans to restrict oil and gas development. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) was alarmed by the proposal’s attempt to redirect more than $3 billion of future oil and gas revenues destined for four Gulf Coast states, towards national conservation and public land priorities. With concern, he explained that this revenue is crucial in rebuilding Louisiana’s eroding coastline. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell clarified that revenues from leasing parts of the outer continental shelf would benefit all states, including Louisiana. She added that the Gulf Coast states would receive funds for restoration as a result of the BP oil spill in 2010.
Changes in vessel discharge regulations were also on the agenda this month. Following a hearing on the impacts of such regulations on the U.S. shipping and fishing industries, Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Ocean, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, introduced the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (S.373). S.373 would provide the establishment of nationally uniform and environmentally sound standards for governing vessel discharges, which would ultimately improve business decisions and the efficiency of shipping operations.
With bipartisan support, Steven Palazzo (R-MS) introduced the NASA Authorization Act of 2015 (H.R.810) to reauthorize the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) programs. The importance of reauthorizing programs, such as those led by NASA, was highlighted during a joint hearing between the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Environment, and Oversight Subcommittees who discussed the looming weather satellite gaps. Mismanagement of the project has caused scheduled delays in the launch of the next generation of polar-orbiting satellites, which could pose severe implications for the nation’s security. The subcommittee members explored the possibility of using satellites from private companies to provide weather data while replacement satellites are being finalized. In concluding remarks, the subcommittees agreed to lend their support to NASA and NOAA in order to expedite the production and launch of replacement satellites.
Two important Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education bills were introduced this month; The STEM Education Act of 2015 (H.R.1020) and Strengthening Education through Research Act (S.227). The former, which passed the House on February 25, 2015, defines “STEM” education such that it includes computer science, and will support existing STEM education programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The latter aims to strengthen the federal education research system to make research and evaluations more timely and relevant to state and local needs.
In the midst of federal funding activities, leadership changes took place in the Pentagon; the Senate confirmed Dr. Ashton Carter as President Obama’s new Defense Secretary. Also, earlier this month, the U.S. National Research Council released two reports, Climate Intervention: Carbon Dioxide Removal and Reliable Sequestration, and Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth, that provide a scientific foundation to help inform the ethical, legal, and political discussions surrounding climate intervention. The President signed an executive order directing federal agencies to use a more stringent standard for measuring the flood risk of federally funded projects, which would be based in part on climate science. This week, Obama also vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline bill that Congress passed this month.
The Arctic featured heavily in the last weekly newsletter (number 264) of this month. The new wilderness protection proposed by the Obama administration for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) continued to generate conflict between state and federal officials; Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) threatened to reduce appropriations for the Interior Department if oil and gas development in the ANWR was restricted. Meanwhile, Arctic projects and exploration expand as the ice retreats; the U.S. Navy funded a small army of robots, seagliders, to explore and study the changing Arctic Ocean. Also, the Navy continues to prepare for arctic operations to better respond to contingencies and emergencies in the Arctic. All of this Arctic news aligns quite serendipitously with Ocean Leadership’s 2015 Public Policy Forum, Predicting and Preparing for a Changing Arctic, to take place on March 4th.