Program Update: Advocacy – April 2012
Congressional appropriators got off to an early start this spring with both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approving FY 2013 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bills in April with House and Senate floor consideration expected this month. Both versions would increase spending for the National Science Foundation (NSF), albeit slightly below the President’s requested level. The House and Senate also closely match the President’s request for Earth Science research at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The big difference between the bills is the treatment of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In particular, the Senate proposes to move the design and procurement of NOAA’s earth observing satellites to NASA and uses the $117 million in savings to plus-up funding for NOAA operations, including science and education funding. The House bill maintains the current structure, while increasing funding for satellite procurement and reducing funding for operations.
In April, the House approved a 90-day extension to the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012 (H.R. 4281). The bill directs 80 percent of the BP Gulf Spill fines into a new Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, and also restores the revenue from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund through the RAMP Act. The Senate transportation bill (S.1813) includes the RESTORE Act, as well as a National Endowment for the Oceans, both of which would obligate funds for ocean research. House and Senate conferees will meet on May 8 to begin negotiating a compromise bill. Senator David Vitter, an original co-sponsor of S. 1813, stated that “as a leading Republican conferee tasked to hammer out the final version of this highway bill, I’ll place keeping the RESTORE and RAMP language in the bill as an absolute top priority.”
The National Ocean Policy (NOP) fell under heavy criticism in April when more than 80 groups (including the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Home Builders, National Fisheries Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) submitted a letter to House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) in opposition to funding for the implementation of the new NOP. Soon thereafter, 23 Republicans sent a similar request to Chairman Rogers. The letters assert that the NOP would restrict ocean and inland activities that support jobs and would also take funds away from federal agencies and divert resources away from congressionally authorized activities that are critical to the ocean and coastal economies. They also raised concern about the amount of federal spending that has already been spent on implementing the NOP, how much will be required in the future and proposed that the policy lacked sufficient congressional support. In Alaska, the House Committee on Natural Resources held an oversight field hearing to discuss the NOP. Representative Don Yong (R-AK) asserted the mandates of the policy threaten Alaska’s sovereignty and job security by restricting the ability to use natural resources.
House Committee on Natural Resources Republicans introduced a series of energy bills (H.R. 4382, H.R. 4383, H.R. 4402, H.R. 1192, and H.R. 2176) under their “American Energy Initiative.” The initiative is designed to remove government barriers to energy production and to mitigate gas prices by decreasing permitting time and expanding onshore energy production. During the hearing by the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, congressional members criticized the Bureau of Land Management asserting that permitting times are lengthy and NEPA reviews and litigation are time consuming. However, some panelists who supported the initiative acknowledged that however lengthy the permitting time may be, the environmental assessments and public review process are essential to thorough permitting.
Two years after the BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, the Oil Spill Commission issued a “Report Card” giving the Administration a “B,” industry a “C+” and Congress a “D” for their response to the oil spill. “Two years have passed since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 workers, and Congress has yet to enact one piece of legislation to make drilling safer,” said Bob Graham, one of the Commission’s co-chairs. Meanwhile, Congress is close to implementing a Commission recommendation to dedicate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties for environmental restoration. However, there remain other concerns with the Commission. Also this month, BP drafted and submitted a proposal settlement agreement to settle claims with private plaintiffs for property and economic damages, as well as medical claims. Awaiting U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier’s preliminary approval, BP has also requested a November 8 fairness hearing before final approval of settlement and to postpone any trial on liability until after that hearing. Many of the Gulf Coast states disapproved of the postponement, and U.S. Department of Justice attorneys issued a statement to say that the trial on liability for the spill should begin “no later than summer of 2012.”