Committee passes unfinished science bills from 114th Congress and approves cabinet nominees(Credit: NMFS/Southwest Fisheries Science Center)

Senate Commerce Committee Hits The Ground Running

It took only 25 minutes for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to advance 16 bills this week, including several of relevance to the ocean science community. Many of the measures were considered during the 114th Congress, and most had bipartisan support.

A flurry of confirmation hearings before inauguration day and the first cabinet member confirmed. (Credit: David Burnett/Contact Press Images)

President’s Cabinet Begins To Take Shape

Multiple Senate confirmation hearings overlapped last week, forcing members to scurry to and from simultaneous committee meetings. A confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for Representative Ryan Zinke, nominee for Secretary of the Department of Interior (which includes the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Park Service), was one of the more contentious ones. Rep. Zinke vowed not to sell nor lease public lands and emphasized support for allowing for extraction activities within them. He acknowledged the changing climate while stepping back from an earlier, stronger stance that called it a ‘threat multiplier’ in respect to national security and committed to maintaining science funding levels with particular interest in more research into “clean coal.”

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a confirmation hearing for Wilbur Ross, President Donald Trump’s Department of Commerce secretary nominee. (Credit: NOAA)

What Role Will NOAA Play In The New Administration?

What does the Department of Commerce, most often regarded for its responsibility in creating conditions for economic growth and opportunity, have to do with the ocean? Within the department lies the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), placed there by an irate President Richard Nixon to keep it out of the control of the Secretary of the Interior (with whom he was feuding). The result is a commerce department with a wide-ranging spectrum of duties that include monitoring weather, enforcing international trade agreements, and regulating exports. On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a confirmation hearing for Wilbur Ross, President Donald Trump’s Department of Commerce secretary nominee. Mr. Ross is a billionaire investor and a political newcomer with a long history in the steel, textile, automotive, and coal industries.

Maria Zuber, Chair of the National Science Board, urges federal leaders to continue to suport discovery research.(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Congressional Leadership And Vision Propels U.S. Leadership In Science

At a time of acute partisan rhetoric, it’s good to remember that our elected leaders have a long track record of coming together around an issue that impacts us all: science. The passage of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA) just before the holidays powerfully underscores that reality. Nothing advances our society more than acquiring new knowledge. As the AICA put it, “Scientific and technological advancement have been the largest drivers of economic growth in the last 50 years.” American discoveries have helped create industries and jobs, protect our war fighter. and have given us a deeper understanding of the world and ourselves.

Nomination hearings for Department of Transportation and Defense secretaries reveal support for technological innovation, maritime infrastructure, and U.S. Presence in the Arctic. (Credit: Architect of the Capitol)

Smooth Sailing And Bipartisan Support For Transportation and Defense Secretaries

The Capitol was abuzz this week with the first nomination hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet. While many of these spurred contentious debate, Ms. Elaine Chao, nominee for secretary of the Department of Transportation and cabinet veteran of both Bush administrations (deputy transportation secretary and secretary of labor), did not face significant opposition in Wednesday’s confirmation hearing with the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

The budget resolution provides a spending blueprint for federal agencies while taking aim at the affordable care act. (Credit: Pexels)

Congress Creates Plan For Next Decade Of Federal Spending

With the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) dominating congressional news this week, one important tidbit might have slipped by – Congress passed a budget resolution (S. Con. Res. 3) that would increase the deficit by $9 trillion from Fiscal Years (FY) 2018-2026.

Six new areas have been added to the California Coastal National Monument from Santa Cruz County to Orange County. (Credit: Wikimedia commons)

Obama Adds Six Sites To California Coastal National Monument

President Obama on Thursday added six areas to the California Coastal National Monument, including a prized parcel on the Santa Cruz County coast and some small islands off the coast of Orange County. All of the sites, totaling 6,230 acres, are currently managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The monument designation adds another layer of protection by closing the areas to new development, such as gas and oil drilling.

BOEM denied six pending permits for seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean. (Credit: International Association of Geophysical Contractors)

BOEM Denies Airgun Seismic Surveys In Atlantic From Virginia To Florida

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has denied six pending permits for airgun seismic surveys in Atlantic Ocean planning areas from Virginia to Florida, pleasing conservationists and irritating industry groups. In announcing the decision Friday, BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said there was no immediate need for such tests now that the Atlantic Program Area was removed last year from President Barack Obama’s Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022. She said the move was also based on an “abundance of caution.” “We believe that the value of obtaining the geophysical and geological information from new airgun seismic surveys in the Atlantic does not outweigh the potential risks of those surveys’ acoustic pulse impacts on marine life,” Hopper said in a statement.

President Obama Authors Science Article on Clean Energy and Climate Change. (Credit: Dept. of Energy)

The Irreversible Momentum Of Clean Energy

The release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) due to human activity is increasing global average surface air temperatures, disrupting weather patterns, and acidifying the ocean (1). Left unchecked, the continued growth of GHG emissions could cause global average temperatures to increase by another 4°C or more by 2100 and by 1.5 to 2 times as much in many midcontinent and far northern locations (1). Although our understanding of the impacts of climate change is increasingly and disturbingly clear, there is still debate about the proper course for U.S. policy—a debate that is very much on display during the current presidential transition. But putting near-term politics aside, the mounting economic and scientific evidence leave me confident that trends toward a clean-energy economy that have emerged during my presidency will continue and that the economic opportunity for our country to harness that trend will only grow. This Policy Forum will focus on the four reasons I believe the trend toward clean energy is irreversible.

The House Republican Conference officially elected leadership positions for the next Congress. (Credit: Penn State/Flickr)

Federal Regulations And Rulemaking Process Targeted In Bills Introduced In First Days of 115th Congress

It took a matter of hours after the 115th Congress was sworn in on January 3 for bills to be introduced in the House that would significantly impact executive branch regulations and rulemaking. The Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017 (H.R. 21) and the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act (H.R. 26) both passed the House (along nearly party-line votes) less than 56 hours after the start of the session.