Making science-based decisions requires data and information. Ocean and coastal policies and management decisions also require current and robust observations and monitoring. All three bipartisan bills will advance monitoring and research of the ocean, Great Lakes, and fisheries through grants, linking programs (ICOOS and FOARAM) and topics (ocean observations with sound and with economy), and by updating important indices.
Tagged: Coastal Management
Nothing in COL’s legislative tracker was signed into law this month, but several items did pass out of committee, the House, or the Senate. Notably, the Save Our Seas Act of 2017 (S.756) passed the Senate with unanimous consent last week. The legislation (and its counterpart in the House (H.R. 2748)) reauthorizes and amends the Marine Debris Act (P.L. 109-332) “to promote international action to reduce marine debris.”
Eight million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year – and in total, the amount already in existence outweighs each human by ten to one (approximately the same as a cow or female giraffe), according to Dr. Melissa Duhaime (Assistant Professor, University of Michigan). At a hearing held by the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, lawmakers explored efforts to tackle marine debris in the ocean and Great Lakes. Marine debris refers to any kind of discarded human litter, including derelict fishing equipment; sunken vessels; and trash from fabrics, metal, cardboard, or other substances, but the most abundant – and problematic – form is plastic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
After much debate, five flood insurance bills were approved (three with bipartisan support) on Wednesday afternoon at a markup held by the House Financial Services Committee. The bills are part of a package to reauthorize and reform the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is $24.6 billion in debt and whose current authorization expires September 30. While Republicans and Democrats on the committee have a shared goal of reducing this debt, Democrats withheld support for some of the bills over concerns that the they would raise premiums for policyholders and leave citizens uninsured.
Ocean territories surrounding the United States cover 3.4 million square nautical miles – more than the entire land area of all 50 states. The Department of the Interior (DOI) has the literally enormous responsibility of “support[ing] stewardship and collaborative conservation and management” of these ocean, Great Lakes, and coastal resources. DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke defended the president’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 at a series of hearings this week before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, and the House Natural Resources Committee.