Program Update: Advocacy – July 2012
A government shutdown will be avoided this fall as Congressional leaders agreed to vote on a continuing resolution for the six months of Fiscal Year 13, funding federal programs at approximately current year funding levels. Congress has yet to pass any of the 12 annual appropriations measures, meaning that the next Congress will have to finish the budget process half way through the fiscal year. Final funding levels will be determined in part to whether Congress and the President reach a comprehensive deficit deal or if budget sequestration begins in January. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memo to agencies this week, which stated that the President remains confident that Congress will act to avoid the sequestration but in the event they do not, OMB will be holding discussions with agency staff in the coming months. The Budget Control Act of 2011 calls for approximately $110 billion in automatic, across the board spending cuts starting in January if Congress does not reach a deficit deal to find $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years. These cuts are anticipated to be approximately 8 percent for domestic discretionary programs and 10 percent for defense programs.
This month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by a vote of 253-170 a bill to replace Obama’s offshore drilling plan and open up more areas to energy production. H.R.6082 expands oil and natural gas lease sales beyond President Obama’s Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012-2017. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) said the bill supports job creation and provides a more prosperous and secure energy future; however, Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) said the bill threatens fisheries and introduces a federal mandate for coastal states to open their shores to drilling, whether they want to or not. The bill would establish a timeline for 29 lease sales, some of which were not open to drilling under the Obama plan, including waters off the California, Alaska, South Carolina and Mid-Atlantic coasts. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a similar measure, S.3438, which calls to double the number of lease sales under Obama’s offshore drilling plan. H.R.6082 has been placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar. The Senate is not expected to consider either bill.
On July 6, President Obama signed into law H.R.4348, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (Map-21), which became public Law No. 112-141. Map-21 is a package of bills that includes the RESTORE Act, which establishes the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund to reinvest 80 percent of all civil penalties associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill into projects, activities and research to restore long-term health of the Gulf Coast ecosystem and local economies. The allocation of funds could direct as much as $20 billion to Gulf Coast states beginning next year. RESTORE Act funds are divided into four main categories. Thirty-five percent of all fines will be divided equally among the five Gulf Coast states, and 30 percent will be allocated to these five states based on impacts from the oil spill. Another 30 percent will be used to fund larger restoration projects along the Gulf Coast, to be determined by a new Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. The remaining five percent will be directed to research and equally divided for the establishment of a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Science, Observation, Monitoring, and Technology Program and Centers of Excellence.
Several fisheries bills received action this month in both the House and Senate. The House Natural Resources Committee adopted H.R.4100 to strengthen the enforcement mechanisms to end illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The bill further amends the Tuna Conventions Act of 1950 to implement the Antigua Convention and strengthen the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. H.R.1171, the Marine Debris Act Amendments of 2012, was reported favorably with amendments by the House Natural Resources and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees and placed on the Union Calendar. In addition, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works approved by voice vote several bills that included S.1494, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Establishment Act; S.2282, the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act of 2012; and S.2071, the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act of 2012. Lastly, S.1201, the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, was reported favorably by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and placed on the Legislative Calendar. The bill conserves fish and aquatic communities through partnerships that promote habitat conservation and quality of life for U.S. residents.
The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held hearings to focus on the commercialization of technologies to promote U.S. economic prosperity. The Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics examined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) technology transfer pipeline in response to a recent NASA Inspector General audit that found NASA had missed opportunities to leverage technologies. In addition, the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a field hearing to review the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. I-Corps was launched in 2011 to assess new research concepts for their potential transfer into commercial technologies. With a requested $19 million in funding for fiscal year 2013, Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) questioned whether the program represents the best use of federal taxpayer dollars.