Program Update: Advocacy – February 2012
In February, President Obama released his Fiscal Year 13 Budget. While the overall numbers for the ocean science agencies are relatively good, there are winners and losers within each agency. For instance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) top line number is $5.1 billion, but most of that increase is slated for weather satellite procurement. While NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research received a healthy boost, including a request to return to historical support for competitive climate change research, other extramural programs are slated for cuts. Click here to read more information on the FY13 ocean science budget. The Ocean Leadership Appropriations Tracker can be found here.
Appropriation committees in the House and Senate began holding hearings to consider various agencies’ budget requests, including Department of Interior (DOI), National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and overall Federal Science Research and Development (R&D). In the House, hearings on DOI’s FY13 Budget request expressed some skepticism with undertones of the present discord over the current financial state of the United States government. Responding to questioning, Secretary of the DOI, Ken Salazar, called the budget a “squeeze budget with tough choices and painful cuts.” The budget notably includes an “all the above energy strategy” with support for onshore and offshore oil and natural gas development (i.e. hydraulic fracking) along with offshore wind and onshore solar energy development. The budget also includes increases in fees and taxes on outer continental shelf offshore drilling.
While Committee members overall questioned increased budgets for NSF and Science R&D in view of the current state of the economy, Dr. Subra Suresh, Director of the NSF cited the budget increase as necessary for continuing essential funding for basic research and STEM higher education. Likewise, Secretary Steven Chu of the DOE expressed the agencies commitment to enlist the private business sector in science and economic development with programs such as Start Up America. NOAA’s appropriation budget hearings begin next week.
This month was also active with regards to the restoration of the Gulf Coast and the National Ocean Policy. The Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees released for public comment the draft Phase One plan for restoring the Gulf Coast. Ocean Leadership submitted formal comments to the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustee Council. In Congress, the House was able to attach an amendment to the Transportation Bill that would establish a trust fund within the Treasury to set aside 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties BP is expected to pay for the 2010 oil spill. While this amendment established the trust fund for the 80 percent, it falls short of the full RESTORE Act, which lays out a framework to obligate the money to state and federal restoration efforts. However, it is expected that the Senate’s RESTORE Act (S.1400), which was passed out of the Environment and Public Works Committee last year, will be attached to the Senate’s companion Transportation Bill. If this takes place and is passed by the Senate, the RESTORE Act could be conferenced, moving it closer to becoming a law. Furthermore, the civil suit against BP started this week, but was quickly postponed indicating settlement negotiations are underway. The National Ocean Policy implementation plan was released for public comment in January, and in February, Ocean Leadership submitted a formal letter to the NOC chairs.