December’s Congressional Wrap Up

2020-01-21T14:24:25+00:00 January 21, 2020|
(Click to enlarge) The U.S. Congress. (Credit: Architect of the Capitol)

(Credit: Architect of the Capitol)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What Passed

Congress passed two sets of measures authorizing funding for FY 2020. The 12 spending bills previously considered were bundled into two separate packages, one containing defense and security-related measures and another containing domestic, foreign-aid, science, and other measures. Signed into law by the president, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R. 1158; PL 116-93) and Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R. 1865; PL 116-94) include funding for important science agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (S.1790; PL 116-92) was also passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, authorizing activities for the U.S. Department of Defense and the national security activities of the Department of Energy. The legislation includes provisions to promote climate resilience of military installations; encourage research and science education; and establish an interagency working group to help combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The House passed a package of measures, the Coastal and Great Lakes Communities Enhancement Act (H.R. 729), that works to improve coastal and Great Lakes resiliency. It includes several bills favorably reported earlier this year by the House Committee on Natural Resources, including the Digital Coast Act (H.R.2189), which would codify NOAA’s Digital Coast Program that integrates data, tools, and training to better help coastal communities adapt to changing environmental conditions; the Integrated Coastal Ocean Observing System Act (ICOOS; H.R.1314), which would reauthorize the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) program aimed at improving data collection and information sharing between federal agencies and coastal observation partners through regional data centers; and the National Sea Grant Program Amendments Act (H.R. 2405), which would reauthorize the National Sea Grant College Program that works to facilitate partnerships between academia, local governments, communities, and businesses and to provide research and work experience for the next generation of ocean scientists. The bill package also includes a provision to consider the formation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency for ocean research (ARPA-O). Matching similar existing projects for defense (DARPA) and energy (ARPA-E), the program would promote the development of ocean technologies that improve data collection and operational capacity with the goal of enhancing the economic, ecological, and national security of the United States.

The MSI STEM Achievement Act (H.R. 4372), which supports efforts to increase STEM education at minority-serving institutions (MSI) of higher education, also passed the House.

The Senate also considered a package of measures that would reauthorize or update several important federal wildlife conservation programs. Titled America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (S. 3051) was introduced and passed favorably out of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Many of the provisions included in the act have already been approved either by the House Natural Resources Committee or the full House of Representatives. The package includes reauthorizations of North American Wetlands Conservation Act (P.L. 101-233; H.R. 925), the Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization Act (S. 701), and the Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act of 1998 (PL 105-312); provisions for Great Lakes monitoring, assessment, science, and research; and the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act (H.R. 1747). These programs would provide or continue providing funding and grants to help restore essential habitats and continue sustainable use of resources in these areas.

Other Senate committees also considered legislation for ocean management. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources favorably reported the Wind Energy Research and Development Act of 2019 (S. 2660), which would establish a grant program for wind energy research, development, and demonstration. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation favorably reported the Marine Mammal Research and Response Act of 2019 (S. 2802), which would reauthorize the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue and Response Grant Program to help with recovery and rehabilitation of stranded marine mammals; as well as the Arctic Shipping Federal Advisory Committee Act (S. 2786), which would establish a federal advisory committee to provide policy recommendations to improve the safety and reliability of maritime transportation in the Arctic and take advantage of emerging opportunities in the region.

What’s New

Legislation concerning a variety of ocean and coastal management issues was introduced in the House, including the Regional Ocean Partnership Act (H.R. 5390), which would formally authorize existing Regional Ocean Partnerships as partners with the federal government, providing them with more consistent funding to address the ocean and coastal concerns of each region; the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Research Act (H.R. 5366), which would fund grants supporting research on the conservation, restoration, or management of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay; and the E. Cooper Brown Ocean Clean Energy Act of 2019 (H.R. 5375), which would allow an energy tax credit for the cost of ocean thermal energy equipment.

The Strategic Arctic Naval Focus Act of 2019 (S. 3080) was introduced in the Senate. The legislation would direct the federal government to recognize the importance of the Arctic region to American national and economic security interests and to develop a strategy for U.S operational capabilities to respond to new challenges in the region.

What’s Next

Appropriators will soon begin work on funding bills for FY 2021. The process will begin with the president’s budget request, expected to be released in early February.

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