This month, Consortium for Ocean Leadership’s President and CEO, Sherri Goodman, submitted outside witness testimony to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, (CJS) and to the Subcommittee on Defense. In these testimonies, Goodman discussed the FY16 federal science budget for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Ocean Leadership recommends that the CJS Subcommittee funds NSF at $7.72 billion; NASA Earth Science at $1.95 billion; and NOAA at $6 billion to help maintain U.S. global leadership in ocean science and technology, which is critical to American agriculture, energy development, a changing Arctic, ocean exploration, and a healthy U.S. scientific workforce. Also, in order to ensure our nation can maintain naval battlespace superiority in an increasingly unstable world, Ocean Leadership recommends that the Navy 6.1 basic research line is funded at $650 million, and the 6.2 applied research line at $870 million in FY16.
On March 4, 2015, Consortium for Ocean Leadership held its 2015 Public Policy Forum, Predicting and Preparing for a Changing Arctic. A record number of participants heard from scientists, policy-makers, industry, U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, and government and native Alaskan leaders who provided insights about oil and gas exploration, response and readiness, national security, shipping, and fishing in the Arctic, as well as the importance of the Arctic to the people of Alaska and those who live in the Lower 48. A complete summary of the Forum will be made available in the coming weeks, as well as presentations, video and photos.
In the same week as the Forum, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to evaluate opportunities for America to build on its status as an Arctic nation. Senators and witnesses at the hearing agreed that the U.S. needs to invest in icebreaker ships, weather forecasting, mapping, and modernized navigational charts for the Arctic region. Chairwoman Murkowski (R-AK) announced her and Sen. Angus King’s (I-ME) newly formed Senate Arctic Caucus and promoted it as a tool to help other lawmakers realize the potential and impact of the Arctic to their states.
Both Senate and House Committees held a number of budget hearings this month in both their appropriating and authorizing committees, continuing their examination of the President’s FY16 budget request for NOAA, NSF, NASA, and the Department of Interior (DOI):
House CJS appropriators first held an oversight hearing for the Department of Commerce, including NOAA and NASA. NASA Inspector General Paul Martin highlighted the need to ensure the integrity of the contracting and grants processes. Enhancing weather satellite development and mitigating coverage gaps featured as some of the Department of Commerce‘s most significant management and performance challenges. In response, House appropriators offered to assist the Department in obtaining stronger control of finances, contracts and grants. In a second hearing, Senate CJS appropriators expressed their disappointment with NOAA’s budget request given NOAA remains unprepared to address potential gaps in weather satellite coverage. However, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker indicated that in preparation to combat future weather data gaps, the Department of Commerce had requested $380 million for a “Polar Follow-On” satellite. Aside from satellite programs, NOAA’s budget request places a large emphasis on climate change issues that pertain to the ocean as well as a sizable increase for the agency’s fisheries program.
In a third hearing, House CJS Appropriators praised NOAA’s work, but also expressed concerns over the agency’s request for a large amount of funds to purchase new survey vessels. Although costly, these new ships would serve as replacements for the agency’s aging fleet. NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan was also interrogated about a wide range of topics ranging from fishery data to weather satellites.
Finally, NOAA Administrator Sullivan further discussed her agency’s spending priorities and mission during an oversight hearing, jointly organized by the House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittees on Federal Lands, and Water, Power and Oceans. Among the many topics discussed, she expressed desire to expand the role of aquaculture in securing the nation’s seafood supply. NOAA Administrator Sullivan explained that approving NOAA’s $4.5 million budget increase would help “develop a robust and sustainable U.S. marine aquaculture industry.” She further highlighted the need to streamline regulations and increase shellfish and finfish farms in U.S. waters. NOAA also requested $2 million to develop science-based guidelines for aquaculture and increase its regulatory capacity and efficiency. Research would be emphasized on modeling areas where the industry could harm sensitive habitats and species, predicting impacts on wild fish populations, and minimizing the spread of disease.
Having defended its budget request, NOAA now awaits lawmakers in the House and Senate to decide on appropriations, and ultimately, on NOAA’s ambitious Polar Follow-On satellite and climate change programs.
Dr. France Córdova, NSF Director, defended the Foundation’s budget before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and during a budget hearing held by House appropriators from the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS). During both hearings, Republicans were very critical of increased funding levels requested for the Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Science Directorate. CJS Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) explained that his constituents’ money needed to be spent wisely, especially during a constrained fiscal environment. Republicans praised NSF’s new transparency and accountability practices, but Democrats remained suspicious about introducing the national interest test into legislation explaining that science needs to remain a merit-based process free from political review. Dr. Córdova also discussed the full implementation of the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) and NSF’s involvement in Arctic research.
DOI Secretary Sally Jewell was also busy defending her budget request in Congress this month. Senate Appropriations Interior Subcommittee reviewed the Department’s FY16 budget request. Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was not pleased with the Administration’s budget request, and questioned Secretary Jewell about Arctic infrastructure, offshore oil development, and the Administration’s commitment to Alaska’s coastal communities (including the need for emergency evacuation routes and village relocation assistance). In a separate hearing, Secretary Jewell also defended her budget before the House Committee on Natural Resources. Similar to Sen. Murkowski, Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) was unhappy with the DOI’s proposed budget, calling it “under-impressive.” Republicans expressed dismay over increased taxes and regulations on energy producers, while the Democratic side of the Committee criticized the DOI’s next five-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan. However, Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) praised the Administration’s request to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act. DOI also proposed a competitive grant program to restore natural coastal systems to reduce flood, storm, sea-level rise risks, and will continue to invest in science and technology initiatives that develop solutions and improve our understanding of issues, such as coastal erosion and invasive species. Above all, Secretary Jewel indicated that connecting young people to the great outdoors was among one of the top priorities for her Department as 40 percent of their work force will be eligible to retire soon.
In mid-March, NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr., testified before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness for the President’s FY16 budget request. Chairman Ted Cruz (R-TX) expressed deep concern with the proposed funding increases for Earth sciences programs and highlighted NASA’s need to refocus on its core mission of human exploration of space rather than the Earth’s systems. However, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Administrator Bolden reminded the Committee that space exploration and Earth sciences work together synergistically.
The House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing to examine the Spending Priorities and Missions of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) in the President’s FY16 Budget Proposal. Lawmakers largely focused on the President’s five-year offshore energy leasing plan, which would permit for the leasing of 317 million acres of the American coastline for oil and gas drilling. Republicans urged for more drilling and removal of rules that restrict deep-water projects on the outer continental shelf. This push to expand on drilling plans was countered by Democrats who argued for reduced oil production to limit potential oil and gas spills.
In addition to the focus on federal funding by Congress this month, several noteworthy bills were introduced. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) sponsored the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2015 (H.R.1029) and the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015 (H.R.1030), respectively; both bills were passed by the House by floor votes mostly along party lines (H.R.1029: 236-181, H.R.1030: 241-175). The former would alter EPA Science Advisory Board membership requirements, while the latter would specifically disallow EPA from issuing regulations that use science data and information that isn’t available publically. Identical bills were introduced in the Senate (S.543 and S.544). Similarly, a bill to ensure public access to published materials concerning scientific research and development activities funded by federal science agencies (Public Access to Public Science Act, H.R.1426) was introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). Consortium for Ocean Leadership, along with other science associations, expressed their concerns about H.R.1030 in a letter to the House Majority Whip. Also of importance to ocean scientists, the Ocean Acidification Research Partnership Act (H.R.1277), was introduced by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) to provide ocean acidification collaborative research grant opportunities. Also, the American Innovation Act was introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) in the Senate (S.747) and by Rep. Bill Foster in the House (H.R.1398); these identical bills aim to prioritize funding for an expanded and sustained national investment in basic science research. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) introduced H.R.1335, Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, which would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to provide flexibility for fishery managers and stability for fishermen.
The American Meteorological Society, the Association of State Floodplain Managers, the Coastal States Organization, and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership held a briefing on the science, risk communication, and response to coastal flooding. Experts spoke about the causes and impacts of coastal flooding to communities, National Weather Service storm surge products, and community engagement. While the speakers admitted that coastal flooding is a huge problem, the field is growing very quickly; scientists and managers are working together to produce maps that are capable of translating complex data from sophisticated models into a user friendly product to facilitate good decision-making in citizens protecting themselves in times of hazards.
Late this month, President Obama announced the nomination of key administration posts, including marine biologist Andy Read, Duke University, as Chair of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission.