Russian nuclear icebreaker Yamal on her way to the North Pole, 2001. (Credit: Wofratz, Wikipedia Commons)

America Losing To Russia 40-3 In Arctic Icebreaker Race

Few ships have a strong enough hull, the appropriate shape, or enough power to push through multiple meters of solid sea ice. Icebreakers are becoming increasingly necessary ships for the Coast Guard as the climate warms and the Arctic thaws, opening the once-inaccessible area to traffic and foreign nations like Russia and China. The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation held a hearing to discuss these much-needed vessels (vital for conducting Artic research) with the Coast Guard.

Barbara Comstock at the 2017 K-12 STEM Symposium (Credit: WashingtonExec)

House Lawmakers Call For Better STEM Education

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a Research and Technology subcommittee hearing on Wednesday to explore the future of STEM and computer science education in the United States to prepare today’s youths for much-needed science and engineering jobs. Citing American students’ 19th (science) and 31st (mathematics) rank out of 35 countries, Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (TX-21) advocated the need to “capture and hold the desire of our nation’s youth to study science and engineering so they will want to pursue these careers.” His STEM Education Act of 2015 (P.L.114-5) encourages students to enter STEM fields.

A clump of Spartina alterniflora, a common wetland grass in the Chesapeake Bay.

HELP For Wildlife Act Advances To Senate Floor

Prior to the Chesapeake Bay Program, the largest bay in the country was so polluted and disease-ridden that oysters, seagrass beds, and blue crabs declined in alarming numbers, threatening the economy of the region and wreaking havoc on ecosystems. Since the creation of the program in 1983, the conditions in the bay have been slowly, but surely, improving. The HELP for Wildlife Act (S. 1514), which passed out of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public by a vote of 14-7, is a comprehensive (though controversial) recreational hunting and conservation bill that reauthorizes the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) (Credit: NASA)

Senate Appropriators Find Science Funding Appropriate

On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Appropriations passed the $53.4 billion Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2018 (S.1662) bill in a 30-1 vote. “The committee has made difficult but responsible decisions to produce a bill that strikes a financial balance between the competing priorities of law enforcement, national security, scientific advancement, and economic development,” declared Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby (AL). In the Senate bill, the National Science Foundation (NSF) would be funded at $7.31 billion, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at $5.59 billion, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at $19.5 billion, representing cuts from FY 2017 of 2.2 percent, 1.5 percent, and 0.6 percent, respectively. The total reductions in the bill amount to $3.2 billion below the FY 2017 enacted level, but overall funding remains $4.4 billion above the president’s budget request.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act has helped restore U.S. fish populations, and now 90 percent of fisheries fall below their annual catch limits. (Credit: Bruno de Giusti, Wiki Commons)

House Fishes For Improvements To Magnuson-Stevens Act

Only 31 years ago, fleets from foreign countries could fish as close as 12 nautical miles to the United States shoreline. Fish populations were severely depleted, impacting livelihoods for fishers and threatening biodiversity. As a result, Congress passed the bipartisan Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). This law extends U.S. jurisdiction to 200 nautical miles, uses science-based management to rebuild stocks and prevent overfishing, and ensures an economically sustainable yield via quotas and annual catch limits. The 1976 law created eight regional fishery management councils and has been updated twice, once in 1996 and again in 2007. Thanks to these efforts, U.S. fish populations are rebuilding, and now, 90 percent of fisheries fall below their annual catch limits. Last week, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans held a hearing to discuss areas for improvement to consider upon reauthorization. Both sides of the aisle praised the successes of the law and conceded need for change but had different ideas for what those alterations might be.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. (Credit: Wikiwand)

Endangered Species Act In Danger?

What do blue whales, loggerhead sea turtles, southern bluefin tuna, dugongs, manatees, sea otters, hammerhead sharks, and Elkhorn corals have in common? They’re all listed as endangered – and therefore federally protected – under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). With alarming numbers of North Atlantic right whale deaths and fishing entanglements this summer, this 1973 law is at the forefront of marine scientists’ minds. In a House Natural Resources hearing on Wednesday, the full committee gathered to discuss five Republican-authored bills to reform the landmark act. The majority press release identifies the goals of the bills as increasing responsibilities of states, improving data transparency, altering listing and delisting processes, and discouraging costly lawsuits.

America's infrastructure projects received a D+ grade from The American Society of Civil Engineers. (Credits: FingerLakes.com)

America’s Water Infrastructure Projects: Backlogged And Sediment-Clogged

The nation’s water infrastructure is in a truly dire state; with a D+ grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers, it is time for an update. Last week, the House and Senate held hearings to address this issue. The House Transportation Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment focused on the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). Chairman Garret Graves (LA-6) said the Corps has an “absolutely critical mission,” which centers around building and maintaining infrastructure that bolsters the economy while integrating environmental sustainability. However, both sides of the aisle were concerned with the Corps’ backlog of unfinished projects and lack of implementation guidance for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (P.L.113-121) and the Water Resources Development Act of 2016.

Air gun array on a research vessel, used for reflection seismic profiles in the ocean (Credit: Hannes Grobe, Wiki Commons)

Expand Offshore Drilling Or Focus On Renewables?

At a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing, as lawmakers explored the potential for offshore drilling in Alaska and the Atlantic, seismic testing was once again a controversial topic. Seismic tests are used to determine the presence and abundance of oil; registering at 120 decibels, Representative Jared Huffman (CA-2) said the blasts have “an enormous and obvious impact” on marine mammals. Witness Nikki Martin (President, International Association of Geophysical Contractors) disagreed, claiming that there is no scientific evidence showing harm to marine mammals (despite studies showing otherwise).

The $38.4 billion appropriations bill prioritizes energy security and nuclear capabilities.

Senate Committee Approves Energy And Water Appropriations Bill

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed their Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill by a margin of 30-1. The Senate bill, which passed out of the Energy and Water subcommittee earlier in the week, clocks in at $629 million above the FY 2017 enacted level and a staggering $4.1 billion above President Trump’s request. The $38.4 billion bill, which prioritizes energy security and nuclear capabilities, funds Department of Energy (DOE) programs (including energy development and research) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) infrastructure projects.

The House version of the bill prohibits funding for the National Ocean Policy. (Credit: BOEM.gov)

Interior Appropriations Passes House Committee With Anti-National Ocean Policy Rider

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations committee approved the Interior and Environment appropriations bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 in a 30-21 vote. This budget represents an $824 million decrease from the FY 2017 enacted level, which Subcommittee Ranking Member Betty McCollum (MN-4) said she was “deeply disappointed” about, although the president’s budget request would have provided $4.3 billion less. The bill’s $31.4 billion includes $114.2 million for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (matching the president’s request), $108.5 million for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (a more than 30 percent increase from FY 2017), and $1.039 billion for the U.S. Geological Survey ($46 million less than the FY 2017 level).