Program Update: Advocacy – May 2012
This month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved by a vote of 247-163 the fiscal year 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill (HR 5326), which funds the Department of Commerce, the Department of Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and other related agencies for the next fiscal year. In total, the legislation contains $51.1 billion in funding for these agencies, which is $1.6 billion below last year’s levels and $731 million below the President’s request for these programs. The House debated the legislation over several days, approving the following amendments: Representative Flores’ (R-TX) amendment to prohibit funding to implement the National Ocean Policy, Rep. Harris’ (R-MD) amendment to cut NOAA’s climate-change website by $542,000 and Rep. Cravaack’s (R-MN) amendment to prohibit funding for a Climate Change Education program within NSF. The inclusion of several controversial policy riders will make conferencing the bill with the Senate more difficult. More information on the FY13 budget can be found on our Science Funding page.
The House also passed by a vote of 218-199 HR 5652, the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012, which would replace scheduled cuts to defense programs with cuts to entitlement programs. As part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, lower discretionary spending caps and an across-the-board cut (sequestration) are scheduled to go into effect in January. House Republicans are proposing to replace the defense sequester by lowering the discretionary spending cap by $19 billion and adopting an additional $78 billion in savings from mandatory spending programs such as agricultural subsidies and food stamps. Congress is unlikely to settle this debate until after the November elections.
Also this month, the Congressional dispute over passing a highway transportation bill continued in bicameral, bipartisan conference. The conferees met to reconcile H.R.4281, the House generated 90-day extension bill and S.1813, the Senate passed two-year $109 billion highway bill, which passed with wide bipartisan support. While the Senate members pushed for their version of the transportation bill that includes the RESTORE Act, both chambers remain divided over including provisions for the Keystone XL pipeline, relaxing NEPA requirements for new transportation projects and specifics of the RESTORE Act. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), an original sponsor of the RESTORE Act (S.1400) that would deposit 80 percent of the BP Gulf spill fines into a new Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, said that he will work hard to push the Senate‘s version of the RESTORE Act into the final version of the transportation bill. The conference committee is expected to reach an agreement on the bill before the House’s extension bill expires at the end of June.
Congress also conducted several hearings focusing on NSF oversight issues, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) marine debris program, Law of the Sea treaty ratification and federal offshore energy activities. First, the Senate Subcommittee on Research and Science Education met to review oversight issues of the NSF concerning the use of contingency funds for large facility projects and the recommendations of the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Allison Lerner, Inspector General for NSF’s OIG, stated that under-staffing issues were a factor in preventing adequate monitoring of cost reimbursement contracts, but that NSF is open to the recommendations of OIG. In the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) heard testimony from David Kennedy, Assistant Administrator of NOAA’s National Ocean Service, regarding the fate of tsunami marine debris after the Japanese earthquake approaching the United States and response efforts of the NOAA’s Marine Debris program. Senator Begich expressed that the tsunami marine debris is a “slow dragging emergency” and was concerned as to claims that clean-up efforts would fall to the states. Mr. Kennedy acknowledged that the Marine Debris Program does not have the authority or funds to mount such a large scale clean-up. However, he assured the Subcommittee that the program has been working diligently at an inter-agency capacity to identify marine debris and predict debris movement.
Last week, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) was joined in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to analyze U.S. national security and strategic imperatives for ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton testified that the “U.S. interests are deeply tied to the ocean,” and that the U.S. stands to gain further freedom of navigational provisions, global mobility in commercial and maritime industry, and provisions to offshore natural resources by joining the Law of the Sea Convention.
Also this month, Congress considered the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) proposed final Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012-2017 and the recently announced offshore wind energy plan for the mid-Atlantic. The House Committee on Natural Resources held an oversight hearing to discuss the BOEM’s new five-year Program in the western Gulf of Mexico, which is pending Congressional approval. The first lease sale is expected in November or December of 2012. While the proposed plan will not open up new areas outside of the Gulf and Alaska for drilling or exploration, Tommy Beaudreau, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), emphasized the plan’s purpose is to make offshore areas available that have previously been evaluated and proposed to hold recoverable oil and gas resources, and have currently active leases available. House Representatives expressed mixed concerns about this proposal, including Representative Doc Hastings (R-AK) who thought the plan should include additional areas along the mid-Atlantic. On the other hand, Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-MA) challenged the Subcommittee leadership for not acting on the BP Oil Spill Commission’s recommendations to pass laws to strengthen offshore energy safety measures and environmental impact assessments. This week, the Department of Interior has taken steps forward in offshore wind energy production by announcing a finding of ‘no competitive interest’ and clears the way for an environmental impact analysis for the Mid-Atlantic offshore wind energy transmission line proposed by Atlantic Grid Holdings, LLC. The first of its kind, the subsea transmission system, would connect wind turbine facilities from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia in federal waters offshore in the outer continental shelf (OCS). In light of this announcement, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to discuss the role of government in energy innovation. Norman Augustine, former Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, testified that government has a role to generate a more vigorous public commitment to energy technology development and to make energy production more of a domestic priority over foreign dependency. Further, Jesse Jenkins, Director of the Institute for Energy and Climate Policy, called on Congress to make changes to the national energy policy to drive innovation incentives so that clean technology can be more cost-competitive with fossil fuels.