August and September’s Congressional Wrap Up

2019-10-21T15:57:14+00:00 October 21, 2019|
(Credit: Architect of the Capitol)

(Credit: Architect of the Capitol)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What Passed

Since returning from August recess, Congress has continued work on their spending bills for fiscal year (FY) 2020. Both chambers passed a continuing resolution (CR; P.L. 116-59), signed into law by the president, that kept the federal government from shutting down when the fiscal year came to an end on September 30. The stopgap measure keeps the government open by maintaining FY 2019 funding levels through November 21 as both chambers continue to work through their 12 appropriations bills. Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved 10 of their bills, including the Commerce-Justice-Science (S. 2584), Defense (S. 2474), and Interior-Environment (S. 2580) bills. The House has not taken any further action after passing 10 of their bills before the August recess.

The House approved legislation committed to improving diversity in the science, technology, education, and mathematics (STEM) workforce, passing the STEM Opportunities Act of 2019 (H.R. 2528). The bill promotes development of a diverse STEM workforce by helping implement practices that limit barriers for women and racial and ethnic minority groups to pursue research in higher education and at federal laboratories. The MSI STEM Achievement Act (H.R. 4372) was also introduced and passed out of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. It directs federal agencies and the Office of Science and Technology Policy to help improve the quality of undergraduate STEM education and enhance the research capacity at the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), and minority serving institutions (MSIs).

The House also passed three bills regarding offshore oil and gas exploration. If enacted, the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019 (H.R. 205) and Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act (H.R. 1941) would permanently ban oil and gas leasing in certain areas of the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast and in the Pacific and Atlantic Outer Continental Shelves, respectively. The Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Act (H.R. 1146) would prevent the opening of the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas exploration.

Both chambers were active in marking up legislation. The House Committee on Natural Resources favorably reported three bills which would reauthorize the National Sea Grant College Program (H.R. 2405) and Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System (H.R. 1314) and would formally authorize the Digital Coast Program (H.R. 2189).

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment passed a series of bills that would reauthorize restoration and conservation programs for the Great Lakes (H.R. 4031), Puget Sound (H.R. 2247), San Francisco Bay (H.R. 1132), and Chesapeake Bay (H.R. 1620), in addition to reauthorizing the National Estuary Program (H.R. 4044). Several pieces of legislation also passed out of the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife that work to support coastal resilience projects and community adaptation initiatives (H.R. 3115, H.R. 3541, H.R. 1487).

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works passed the Save Our Seas 2.0: Improving Domestic Infrastructure to Prevent Marine Debris Act (S. 2260) and the Committee on Foreign Relations passed the Save Our Seas 2.0: Enhanced Global Engagement to Combat Marine Debris Act (S. 2372). Building on the Save Our Seas Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-265), these bills continue to address marine debris from a domestic waste and infrastructure perspective and from a U.S. global engagement perspective. The Marine Energy Research and Development Act of 2019 (S.1821) also passed out of committee. This bill would promote research and development activities for increased energy generation and improved environmental outcomes of deploying marine energy technologies.

What’s New

Both chambers introduced new legislation focusing on conservation and restoration. The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2019 (S. 2429 and H.R. 4160) would reauthorize the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-562) and would establish the United States Coral Reef Task Force. In response to new regulations by the Department of the Interior regarding the Endangered Species Act (ESA), both chambers introduced the PAW and FIN Conservation Act of 2019 (S. 2491 and H.R. 4348), and the House introduced an amendment to the ESA to increase the management role of local and state governments (H.R 4483). The Senate introduced the SAVE Right Whales Act (S. 2453), which would help finance right whale conservation projects and programs, and the Chesapeake WILD Act (S. 2591), which would create a new grant program for Chesapeake Bay conservation efforts. The House introduced the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act (H.R. 1747) as well.

The House also introduced the Preserve Science in Policymaking Act of 2019 (H.R. 4557) in response to an executive order arbitrarily reducing the number of advisory committees established under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. COL strongly objected to the executive order and urged the president to rescind it. The legislation would prohibit the president from terminating one of these advisory committees unless authorized by law or with the consent of the agency’s chief data officer, chief evaluation officer, and chief information officer.

What’s Next

Lawmakers are still working in conference to reconcile differences between House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (H.R. 2500 and S. 1790), hoping to send the annual bill to the White House as quickly as possible.

Congress has until November 21 to reconcile their appropriations bills before the CR expires. If they don’t, another stopgap measure will be necessary to avoid a government shutdown.

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