Program Update: Advocacy – March 2012
On March 7, 2012, Ocean Leadership held its annual Public Policy Forum at the United States Capitol Visitor Center. This year’s theme was the science of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes restoration. Speakers discussed the scientific components of restoration, examples of current restoration projects, and restoration of the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The day-long meeting featured addresses from Congressional members, federal agencies, industry and scientists from around the country. Congressional speakers included Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Representative Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL). A final summary report on the Forum and videos will be released this month. Presentations and more information on the speakers can be found here.
In March, the RESTORE Act moved closer to becoming law when the Senate version (S.1400) was attached to the two-year highway bill (S.1813). The RESTORE Act obligates 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties BP will ultimately pay from the April 2010 oil spill to go to the Gulf States for restoration and establishes a National Endowment for Oceans. Despite success in the Senate, the House failed to pass a highway reauthorization bill (H.R.7). The House bill includes language to establish a trust fund in the United States Treasury to house 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties but does not provide the framework to obligate the money. Since the current highway authorization expired at the end of March, Congress adopted a temporary reauthorization (H.R.4281) to extend existing transportation programs for 90 days. Congress will consider this important reauthorization bill before the extension ends in June and Congress will likely negotiate a title to obligate the Clean Water Act fines as part of the final bill.
The budget season moved into full gear in March as the budget framework took shape and Appropriators began to hold hearings. The House passed a Budget Resolution (H Con Res 112) authored by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) on a partisan 228-191 vote after rejecting several budget alternatives, including the President’s budget, a Congressional Progressive Caucus budget and a Republican Study Committee budget. The adopted budget would cap discretionary spending for FY13 at $1.028 trillion, which is $19 billion below the cap set by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of $1.047 trillion, but $93 billion more than recommended by the Republican Study Committee. Despite its passage in the House, the Senate does not plan to act on Ryan’s budget and is expected to use the spending caps outlined in the BCA to guide the FY13 appropriations process. The $19 billion discrepancy between the House and Senate spending caps will hinder Congress’s ability to reach consensus on appropriations bills before the fiscal year begins in October.
The House and Senate authorizing and appropriations committees held several hearings on the President’s FY13 budget request. Ocean Leadership President and CEO Bob Gagosian testified during a House Appropriations hearing on FY13 budget issues. His testimony is available here. Tim Cowles, Program Director for the Oceans Observatories Initiative (OOI) testified before the House Science Research and Science Subcommittee regarding the National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction Management. His testimony is available here.
In Federal News, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released a draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for public comments on development of the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Further, on March 17, the Department of Interior (DOI) publicized its request for input from industry on potential interest in oil and gas exploration off the coast of South-Central Alaska, mainly the Cook Inlet Planning Area (Sale 244).
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has also extended the comment period to the end of April for proposed reform of federal policies relating to grants and cooperative agreements; cost principles and administrative requirements. OMB is considering consolidating the cost principles into a single document (or circular) and is exploring the use of predetermined indirect rates that would not be subject to subsequent adjustment and would remain in place for multiple years.
Congress is on recess during the first two weeks in April. When they return, they will continue to consider the President’s FY13 budget request and the transportation bill.