The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed two bipartisan bills. (Credit: Wikimedia commons)

May’s Legislative Roundup

May brought with it the enactment of a bill seven months in the making — the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (H.R. 244). While there was not much movement of science-related bills on the chamber floors, members introduced a flurry of new legislation relevant to the ocean science and technology community.

Committee members highlight importance of geosciences, funding, and correct statistics on scientific integrity from previous hearing.

Advancing Understanding At NSF

The National Science Foundation (NSF) works with some impressive numbers. They receive over 50,000 research proposals each year, support 392,000 people, and have funded 223 Nobel Prize winners. Here’s a less impressive number – a proposed 11 percent decrease (totaling $776 million) in their budget for the coming fiscal year.

Platforms Ellen and Elly offshore near Long Beach, Calif in BSEE’s Pacific Region. Ellen (right) is a production platform connected by a walkway to Platform Elly (left), a processing platform for both Ellen and another platform, Eureka. (Credit: BSEE)

Administration Appoints New Director Of Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke tapped former Louisiana state official Mr. Scott Angelle to run the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which is responsible for fostering safe and responsible energy production on the outer continental shelf. BSEE came into existence in 2011 following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; Mr. Angelle will be only the fourth director in its short history.

Coast Guardsmen use a flat-bottom boat to assist residents during severe flooding around Baton Rouge, LA on Aug. 14, 2016. (Credit: Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Giles/Coast Guard)

Coast Guard And FEMA Bills On The Move

While most eyes last week were on news from the White House – the president’s budget request – Congress was still at work moving bills of its own. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed two bipartisan bills – the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 2518) and the FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 2548).

The EPA and its regulations that protect human and environmental health are under scrutiny. (Credit: Peter Kratochvil/PublicDomainPictures.net)

States, Science, And The EPA

Early last week amidst the anticipated unveiling of the president’s budget proposal, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Environment discussed an equally contentious and ongoing topic – regulations promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Arguments during the hearing echoed those heard before; committee Chairman Lamar Smith (TX-21) stated federal government regulations micromanage states and theorized a “unilateral environmental agenda,” while Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1) insisted they provide an even playing field for all Americans and are a response to “failure of the states to safeguard their residents from pollution in the from air, water, and soil.”

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to examine this overhead cost of federally-funded science research at universities (Credit: Getty Images)

The Indirect Costs Of Research

Science is hard enough, now imagine pipetting in the dark or using a microscope for advanced research that’s better suited for a fourth-grade class. To cover the “indirect” costs of doing federally-funded research, such as paying for laboratory bills, disposing of hazardous waste, and complying with federal regulations, each university and the government determine an overhead rate for research projects. Last week, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing to examine this overhead cost of federally-funded science research at universities.

Mr. Ross highlighted the role of fisheries in the trade deficit. (Credit: PROVirginia Sea Grant/ Flickr)

“Difficult Decisions Needed To Be Made”

Those watching Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross testify before the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies on the president’s budget request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 may at times have been able to anticipate his answers. As the secretary fielded questions from worried Democrats regarding agencies and programs the White House proposed to eliminate or to drastically cut, his responses remained consistent. Whether answering queries about the elimination of the Sea Grant Program, the Minority Business Development Agency, or the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program, Secretary Ross was unwavering in his answer that tradeoffs had to be made to fund the administration’s priorities, “and with the big increases in defense and military and national security, cuts have to be made somewhere.”

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President’s Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2018 Released — With Deep Cuts To Ocean And Geoscience Programs

As the clock struck 11 on Capitol Hill yesterday morning, thousands of people hit “refresh” on their computers, eagerly waiting for the first glimpse of A New Foundation For American Greatness, the president’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Budget Request. For those seeking federal investment in areas such as scientific research, education, environmental conservation, infrastructure, public health, law enforcement, and even aspects of national security, they were sorely disappointed.

The House Education And Workforce Committee met to discuss upgrades to a decade-old education law. (Credit: Mithril Cloud/ Wikimedia Commons)

Getting Technical With Education Law

With technological advancement occurring at ever-increasing speed, it seems surprising that a law meant to better align career and technical education (CTE) programs with students in need of new skills and employers in need of qualified workers hasn’t been updated in more than a decade. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved by voice vote a bipartisan update to this law, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R.2353). Discussion around the bill echoed that of the recent National Science Board quarterly meeting, which highlighted the shifting demographics of the STEM workforce, which includes ocean engineers and marine scientists.

Fish swim around a decommissioned oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico acting as an artificial reef. (Credit: BOEM)

One Man’s Trash Is Some Fish’s Treasure

Iron isn’t just good for your bones and growth – it’s good for the ocean, too. That’s what advocates of the “Rigs-to-Reefs” program, which converts decommissioned oil rigs into artificial marine habitat, claim. But what if that iron is also steeped in a toxic substance like oil waste products? In a Wednesday hearing, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources heard a variety of views on the program’s benefits to the natural ecosystem, taxpayers, and oil companies.