Congress returned from recess on November 12 for a lame duck session after Republicans gained majority of the Senate in the mid-term elections. In January, the 114th Congress will bring new committee leadership, influencing ocean science and research. The House Appropriations Committee has announced its 12 Appropriations Subcommittee Chairs for the 114th Congress, including Representative John Culberson [R-TX] for the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee (with jurisdiction over NSF, NOAA, and NASA). Senate elections in key coastal states resulted in Jeanne Shaheen [D-RI] maintaining her seat, Dan Sullivan [R] defeating Mark Begich [D-AK], current Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, and Thom Tillis [R] upsetting incumbent Kay Hagan [D-NC]. Mary Landrieu [D-LA], Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, will face Bill Cassidy [R] in Louisiana’s December 6 runoff election.
Ocean Leadership joined with other science organizations in submitting a letter to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, recommending NOAA receive at least $5.8 billion in Fiscal Year 2016. The letter highlights six critical areas for investment: weather forecasting, environmental data collection for risk management, ocean and coastal health, fisheries management, satellites, and research. Ocean Leadership also co-signed a letter to House appropriators, encouraging continued support for NSF funding. NSF announced new guidelines for increasing transparency and accountability, including requiring project descriptions to describe how each project “serves the national interest.”
In November, the House passed two bills impacting the EPA’s scientific endeavors: The Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 (H.R. 4012), and the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2013 (H.R. 1422). H.R. 4012 prohibits the EPA from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments unless it has made supporting scientific and technical information available to the public. Ocean Leadership has expressed concerns over the bill’s potential impacts on the EPA’s activities, and the Senate is not expected to consider the legislation. The second bill, H.R. 1422, places new limits on EPA Science Advisory Board membership, and increases public participation requirements for advisory activities. President Obama intends to veto both bills.
The House also voted to reauthorize the National Estuary Program (NEP) through 2018. The reauthorization requires no less than 15 percent of NEP funds be allocated to competitive grants, prioritizes certain topical issues for the competitive grants program, and removes the requirement for EPA to provide NOAA with up to $5 million for administering research in estuarine zones. Additionally, the House approved H. Res 714, promoting peace and collaboration to address territorial disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. H. Res. 714 supports freedom of navigation on international waters in both seas, which is important for research endeavors.
The Senate confirmed the nomination of Franklin M. “Lynn” Orr, Jr., who will serve as Undersecretary for Energy and Science at the Department of Energy (DOE). Orr, who is currently a Professor of Energy Resources Engineering at Stanford University, will oversee science and energy programs at the DOE, including several national laboratories. Two Senate committees passed legislation on energy, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved the Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Act of 2013 (S. 1419), and the Nexus of Energy and Water for Sustainability Act of 2014 (S. 1971). The first bill would authorize the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue pilot licenses for hydrokinetic pilot projects, and expand the National Marine Renewable Energy Centers’ purposes to include support of in-water testing, and demonstration of marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy technologies. The second bill, S. 1971, would task the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy with creating an interagency committee or subcommittee on the energy-water nexus to coordinate and exchange information on research and development. Additionally, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill amending FOIA, limiting federal agencies’ ability to withhold documents about their internal deliberative processes.
Senate and House subcommittees held hearings on topics including cyanotoxins in drinking water, red snapper management in the Gulf of Mexico, and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. At a hearing hosted by the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, witnesses discussed cyanotoxin health impacts and management strategies, and links between nonpoint source pollution and harmful algal blooms. The House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs hosted a hearing on the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Conservation Act of 2013 (H.R. 3099). The bill would require the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission to prepare and adopt a fishery management plan for red snapper, and a strategy for data collection, including a plan for stock assessments. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Jeff Miller [R-FL], argued states are best positioned to manage the recreational red snapper fishery, a viewpoint echoed by Subcommittee Chairman John Fleming [R-LA] and Robert J. Barham, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. According to Christopher Blankenship, Director of the Marine Resources Division at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, individualized data collection by states would be beneficial. He stated stock assessments completed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have been inadequate, and Alabama has conducted more comprehensive data collection in the state. Representative Jeff Duncan [R-SC] also questioned NMFS’ data collection accuracy. Samuel D. Rauch III, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs at NMFS, noted management of red snapper in the Gulf must account for commercial fishing and incidental bycatch, in addition to the recreational fishery. The subcommittee also held a hearing on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s management of Midway Atoll, addressing visitor services on the island and other issues.
The National Academy of Sciences Gulf Research Program published a workshop report on needs of the middle-skilled workforce in the Gulf. Additionally, several federal agencies released climate change adaptation plans, as directed by the President’s Climate Action Plan.