Program Update: Advocacy – January 2013
This month marked the end of the 112th Congress, which worked up to the last moment to pass legislation on New Year’s Day to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for families making less than $450k. Just two days later, the 113th Congress was sworn into office. With regards to another fiscal cliff issue, the Senate is expected to adopt a House-passed bill that would suspend the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling until mid-May. The President is expected to sign the bill into law, which would allow the U.S. to assume approximately $450 billion in additional debt.
One of the first pieces of legislation the 113th Congress dealt with was $50 billion in emergency relief funds (H.R.152) for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. The legislation contains $326 million in funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including $50 million for laboratories and cooperative institutes; $50 million for mapping, charting, geodesy and marine debris surveys; $25 million for improving weather forecasting and hurricane intensity capabilities; and $111 million for weather satellite data mitigation. The President signed the bill into law on January 29.
As is typical in a new Congress, many bills were introduced in the first month of the year, including several energy bills. Don Young (R-AK) introduced H.R. 49, the American Energy Independence and Price Reduction Act, which directs the Secretary of Interior to implement a competitive leasing program for oil and gas development on the Coastal Plain of Alaska, while repealing the prohibition against oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) introduced H.R. 70, the Deficit Reduction, Job Creation, and Energy Security Act, which would expand by 10 percent the acreage of the outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas lease sales and deposit the proceeds into a Deficit Reduction Energy Security Fund.
Several bills have also been introduced in the House related to oceans and natural resources. Delegate Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) reintroduced two bills designed to “help strengthen existing measures to protect our ocean resources and waters around Guam.” H.R. 69, The Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2013, would enhance the enforcement authority of NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard to regulate illegal fishing. The bill also increases capacity for inspection, identification, and monitoring of illegal foreign vessels, amends several international agreements to incorporate civil and criminal penalties and broadens data sharing authority with foreign governments in order to identify and penalize nations that do not comply with fisheries management regulations. H.R. 71, the Coral Reef Conservation Act Reauthorization and Enhancement Amendments of 2013, would improve the scientific information and research on threats related to climate change, including ocean acidification, and support for management and research capabilities at local management agencies and research and academic institutions. The reauthorizing bill would also emphasize cooperative research, partnering with academic institutions in the U.S. on the development of long-term data archive facilities via the internet, and funding for universities, research centers, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations, among others.
Also this month, a federal judge agreed to let BP plead guilty to manslaughter charges for the deaths of 11 rig works and pay $4 billion in penalties associated with the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The plea deal includes $2.4 billion in payments to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for ecological restoration projects and $350 million to the National Academies of Science to fund a 30-year research effort focused on oil spill prevention and environmental monitoring.
BP has yet to go to trial for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act (CWA), which could total between $5 billion and $21 billion, with a trial set to start in late February. Those funds would be allocated based on the RESTORE Act, which directs 2 percent of the CWA fines for centers of excellence for Gulf Coast Research and another 2 percent of the fines for a research, observation and monitoring program administered by NOAA.
Earlier this month, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, Transocean, agreed to a $1.4 billion settlement, including $1 billion for violations of the CWA. Additionally, Transocean will pay $150 million each to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences for oil-spill response and habitat rehabilitation. Based on the RESTORE Act, NOAA will receive $20 million for centers of excellence and another $20 million for a research program once the settlement has been approved by a federal judge.
This week, the Senate confirmed Senator John Kerry (D-MA) as the new Secretary of State. As a Senator, Kerry was a leading proponent of U.S. accession to the Law of the Sea Treaty as well as a leading voice for taking action to combat climate change. The Senate is also beginning hearings for Senator Chuck Hagel (R-IA) to be the next Secretary of Defense. In response to an advance policy question regarding Department of Defense S&T investments, Senator Hagel said, “I understand and appreciate the importance of government investment in science and technology in the area of national security. Maintaining technological superiority against current and projected adversaries underpins our national security strategy and it is only through this investment that we can sustain this critical edge. I fully support the President’s commitment to science and technology, and if confirmed, I will work to support science and technology investments in our defense budget.” Several more high level Administration positions will need to be filled in President Obama’s second term with the impending departures of Interior Secretary Salazar, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, USGS Director Marcia McNutt, and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco.