Summary of Hearings on Ocean Policy (10-05-04)
On September 21st, Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, presided over a full hearing on the Oceans Commission Report. By mandate of the Oceans Act of 2000, the president established a commission to make recommendations toward a national oceans policy. The findings of the Oceans Commission were released this week after 16 public meetings around the country, 18 regional site visits, producing testimony from 447 witnesses, including over 275 presentations and an additional 172 comments from the public. The Oceans Commission hearing was requested in order to evaluate the final recommendations of the report.
Opening comments were offered by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), who emphasized the urgent need to craft a national oceans policy in order to mitigate the negative humans impact on the health of the our oceans. Farr testified, "We all depend on our oceans and coasts, from the person who lives off the water to the person who visits once in a lifetime. The oceans provide food, jobs, vacation spots, scientific knowledge, and opportunities for reflection." He went on to suggest that, "We can craft our uses of the ocean to ensure that they are conducted in a sustainable manner, such that the resources will be there for future generations."
Farr argued that our the institutions currently set up to manage our oceans are too fragmented, spanning over ten federal departments involved in implementing over 130 ocean-related statutes. He pointed to legislation introduced in the house, HR 4900, also known as OCEANS-21, which "offers comprehensive legislation that would establish several governance elements of the national ocean policy framework proposed by the Commission." Yet, despite the leadership efforts of himself and his Ocean Caucus, Farr emphasized that Senate leadership offers the best hope for the implementation of a national oceans policy.
Frank Murkowski, the Governor of Alaska and Chairman of the National Governor's Association Natural Resources Committee, spoke about his state's approach to sustainable oceans management. He strongly argued for a state and local approach to oceans management, stating, "While we understand the need for national coordination, state sovereignty over coastal waters and uplands must be maintained to implement strategies that achieve national standards but are tailored to unique regional and state conditions. It would be unacceptable for any council or board to reduce states' authority for management of our jurisdictional waters or lands."
Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA administrator, spoke in regards to the Bush administration's response to the report. The administration has introduced the "NOAA Organic Act," HR4607, which would "provide NOAA with unified authority to undertake all of its missions, which currently are found in close to 200 separate legislative authorities." He also pointed to the administration's recently released 10-year draft Strategic Plan for implementation of the U.S. Integrated Earth Observation System, part of an international collaboration to integrate and improve earth observation systems.
Admiral Watkins (Ret.), the Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, testified last in panel one. Watkins called for a comprehensive national oceans management policy, citing massive terrestrial pollution runoff and the associated decimation of marine ecosystems. Watkin's elaborated on some of the environmental concerns of the Oceans Commission: "In 2003, there were more than 18,000 days of closings and advisories at ocean and Great Lakes beaches, most due to the presence of bacteria associated with fecal contamination. Across the globe, marine toxins afflict more than 90,000 people annually and are responsible for an estimated 62 percent of all seafood-related illnesses. Harmful algal blooms appear to be occurring more frequently in our coastal waters and non-native species are increasingly invading marine ecosystems. Experts estimate that 25 to 30 percent of the world's major fish stocks are overexploited, and many U.S. fisheries are experiencing serious difficulties. Since the Pilgrims first arrived at Plymouth Rock, over half of our fresh and saltwater wetlands-more than 110 million acres-have been lost."
Despite troubling conditions of our nation's coasts and great lakes, Watkin's remained optimistic for a healthy ocean future. He outlined the general principles detailed in the Report as part of an "ecosystems based" approach to oceans management. Sustainability, stewardship, and an understanding of the interconnectedness of earth systems were among the guiding principles of the proposed policy. He stated, "The U.S. government holds ocean and coastal resources in the public trust-a special responsibility that necessitates balancing different uses of those resources for the continued benefit of all Americans. Just as important, every member of the public should recognize the value of the oceans and coasts, supporting appropriate policies and acting responsibly while minimizing negative environmental impacts."
Watkin's surmised the Oceans Commission Report with three recommendations: the establishment of a national coordinated ocean policy, more investment in cutting edge ocean monitoring systems and ocean sciences, and lifelong ocean-related education to foster the stewardship ethic. He expressed the Commission's support for the proposed Global Earth Observation System and emphasized that, "Sustained investments will be required to: support research and exploration; provide an adequate infrastructure for data collection, science, and management; and translate new scientific findings into useful and timely information products for managers, educators, and the public. This is especially true as we move toward an ecosystem-based management approach that imposes new responsibilities on managers and requires improved understanding of physical, biological, social, and economic forces." Furthermore, he called for a renewed commitment to education in order to reverse scientific and environmental illiteracy.
Dr. Feely and Dr. Fabry added their scientific expertise to panel two, testifying on the declining calcification rates of coral reefs caused by rising carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. The dramatic change in ocean chemistry in the past half century has caused massive coral reef death, representing the extraordinary loss of one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth.
Mr. Berrien Moore III, Vice Admiral Roger T. Rufe, and Mr. Daniel Schwartz, all expressed support of the Ocean Commission Report. They saw the move towards an ecosystems based approach for sustainable management as a necessary step, and that NOAA should be reorganized to take the oceans management lead as an independent agency.
For the full testimony of the Oceans Commission Hearing, click here.
The House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) held a hearing on July 15th to discuss the creation of an organic act for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Questions directed to the witnesses focused on the merits and deficiencies of H.R. 4546 and H.R. 4507. Representative Ehlers authored H.R. 4546, while H.R. 4507 was introduced by Representatives Ehlers and Gilchrest (R-MD) on behalf of the Bush Administration. Both bills outline an organic act for NOAA, which has been operating under 200 separate Congressional authorities since it was created in 1970. A report issued in April by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy recommended creating an organic act for NOAA that would improve efficiency and set specific program goals. The proposed bills offer a new structural organization for NOAA with an ecosystem based management approach, which Theodore Kassinger, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Commerce, defined as managing activities that affect an ecosystem instead of trying to manage the ecosystem itself. Dr. Friday, former Assistant Administrator of the National Weather Service, told the committee that the ecosystem based approach would help balance resource conservation and economic growth, especially with fisheries. Although both are organic acts, H.R. 4546 includes specific functions for NOAA while H.R. 4507 only defines four broad missions for NOAA.
Chairman Ehlers asked the witnesses to outline the pros and cons of making NOAA an independent agency and the response was divided. Kassinger and Friday both agreed that moving NOAA was unnecessary. Kassinger was opposed to the idea because he believed such a move would not only create political controversy, but would also diminish NOAA's ability to influence policy because it would be dwarfed by other agencies. Friday did not see the location of NOAA as the important issue but rather the relationship it had with the Secretary of Commerce. Dr. Baker from the Academy of Natural Sciences explained to the Committee that the issues NOAA deals with are important enough to make them an independent agency similar to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A stronger, independent NOAA would also give more credibility to the science of the program. He believes that NOAA is hidden right now and the extra bureaucracy has not helped. Baker also argued that finding funding for the agency would be easier if it was competing against other science programs rather than those funded by the Department of Commerce. Kassinger was skeptical that a move out of the Commerce Department would be beneficial because competition may be tougher outside the department.
Joining Chairman Ehlers at the hearing was Ranking Member Mark Udall (D-CO), Gil Gutknecht (R-MN), Nick Smith (R-MI), Brian Baird (D-WA), and Jim Matheson (D-UT). Representatives Gutknecht and Smith questioned the financial need of NOAA, citing impressive labs in Colorado and budget increases in past years outpacing inflation. All of the witnesses assured the Committee that NOAA could accomplish much more with additional funds, providing economic benefts to the whole country. Research concerning stock fisheries still needed funding as well as outreach and education activities. Baker also pointed out that NOAA should not be penalized for doing well with their budget. Richard Hirn, speaking on behalf of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, explained that NOAA's inadequate funding was a more important issue than changing its organizational structure, which might do even more harm as financial accountability is reduced. Hirn stated his support for H.R. 4546 because it outlined a distinct and separate legislative grant for the National Weather Service (NWS), which is currently at risk of budget cuts after the House approval of the Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations bill. He did not, however, support H.R. 4507 because it included no such provision.
The consensus of the witnesses was that the two bills needed only minor changes but overall did a good job outlining the structure and mission of NOAA. Friday suggested the organic act was more detailed than usual and Kassinger said he would prefer a more streamlined approach. Representative Gilchrest stressed the critical importance of NOAA and suggested it be placed on the same level as NASA. Ehlers assured him that the organic act would be a step in that direction.
House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), joined by Ranking Member Frank Pallone (R-OH), lead a hearing on July 13th to examine the status of ocean observing systems, which included the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS). This program, which was designed with a similar purpose as the World Weather Watch and the National Weather System, will seek to network ocean research and monitoring to obtain a better understanding of our oceans. The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, in their April 2004 report, stated that 95% of the ocean floor is unexplored and improved knowledge of ocean processes is critical to better management of ocean resources. The report also stated that IOOS will cost a total of $1.7 billion over 5 years with an additional $138 million in startup costs in FY06. Witnesses present agreed that the funds for the program will need to be come from the Commerce, Justice and State appropriations bill, which, after the severe cuts recently experienced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will prove to be quite difficult. Since the report was issued, some members of Congress, such as Gilchrest, have been searching for ways to elevate the importance of ocean research and monitoring, claiming that we know more about the moon than we know about our oceans. Witnesses explained to the Committee that it was not only ocean observation that was important, but Earth observation; understanding ocean to land and land to ocean correlations is critical, but currently ocean data is poor compared to land data, which is why a program such as IOOS is so important. Without making the connections between the two, they argued, ocean data will be less useful and beneficial.
Admiral James D. Watkins, USN (Ret.), Chairman, U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy
The House Resources Committee convened May 20th to discuss the draft report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy released last month. Ret. Admiral Watkins, Chairman of the commission, presented an overview of the report and addressed the concerns of committee members. The report claims that the oceans are in declining health, and that this is likely to have a damaging effect on national and coastal economies. Watkins stated that ocean-related problems are systematic, and that the federal government must agree to the entire policy and administrative overhaul outlined in the report if desirable change is to be made.
While the committee agreed with many of the ideas outlined in the report, they expressed some concerns. New Jersey Representatives Jim Saxton (R) and Frank Pallone (D) asked Watkins about saltwater fishing licenses, worried that new regulations would have a negative impact on the New Jersey economy and undermine the authority of local fisheries agencies. Watkins assured the representatives that fishing taxes would be reinvested into relevant projects and sustain resources for the future. He also stated that the restructuring of the ocean-related bureaucracy would not lead to decreased authority of local agencies. The aim of the recommendations, he said, is to increase coordination and information flow between offices at all levels and that new agencies created under the report guidelines are not meant to oversee local authorities.
Several representatives were also concerned about the cost of implementation of the report's recommendations. The estimated cost of the recommendations is $1.2 billion in the first year, increasing to $3.2 the third year. Steve Pearce (R-NM) said that no one is ultimately responsible for how the money allocated to proposed projects is spent.
There was a considerable amount of debate regarding the request from the National Governors Association for a 60 day extension for the submission of comments to be considered and included in the official report. Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) is a strong supporter of the extension, arguing that the report's complexity, length, and potentially strong impacts on states, are justification to allow more time for governor reviews. Watkins is opposed to the extension because it may cause delay of congressional action until after the election season. He argued that governors have known about the report for two years and have been involved in its development, and that the 50 day comment period is sufficient. Governor comments submitted before June 4th will be considered when drafting the final report, and all governor comments submitted before printing will be included in an appendix to the report.
On May 5, 2004 the House Science Committee held a hearing on the key findings and recommendations of the Preliminary Report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. This is the first comprehensive report on national ocean policy in more than 30 years. Admiral Watkins, the Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy reiterated that the three main outcomes of the report would:
* Create a National Ocean Council in the White House to be chaired
by an assistant to the President
Chairman Boehlert (R-NY) agreed with the Commission's findings, but stated in this tight fiscal economy it will be hard to fund all of the Commission's recommendations. He asked the witnesses to each give a couple of top funding priorities. Each witness agreed that the Integrated Ocean Observation System (IOOS) should be among the top priorities. Admiral Watkins also stated that the National Ocean Council should be a top priority. Representative Gilchrest (R-MD) said that NOAA should be raised to the same level as NASA in funding, prestige and direction. He added that there needs to be better science education in public schools as well. Representative Ehlers (R-MI) wanted the witnesses to submit specific comments about the NOAA organic act, which would rewrite NOAA's mission.
On March 27, 2003, the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans held a hearing on three related ocean bills, H.R. 958 that authorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to acquire or lease a new vessel to conduct hydrographic services, H.R. 959 that authorizes NOAA's oceanographic programs, including the Coastal Ocean Program, the National Undersea Research and Ocean Exploration Programs, and the Coastal Observation Technology System, and H.R. 984 that reenacts and clarifies provisions of NOAA's reorganization plan. Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher (Ret.), Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere at NOAA, and Dr. James Baker, President and Chief Executive Officer at the Academy of Natural Sciences (and former Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere at NOAA during the previous administration), both testified in favor of the bills with only a few minor reservations that they agreed could be worked out with the subcommittee.
Subcommittee Chairman Wayne T. Gilchrest (R-MD) asked which items the witnesses would like to see changed in H.R. 984. Lautenbacher replied that language should be added to assure flexibility in NOAA's organization, specifically in areas related to appointments to the Science Advisory Board.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) asked the panel if the ocean bills should be acted upon now or if the subcommittee should wait until after the release of several related reports. Baker said the bills should be acted upon now to assure a strong ocean program and an independent NOAA. This prompted Pallone to ask if NOAA should become an independent agency like the Environmental Protection Agency instead of being part of the Commerce Department. Lautenbacher commented that the administration does not have a position on that issue yet. He said a truly independent agency would be advantageous, but it would require a different amount of resourses.
Pallone asked about the difference between the National Undersea
Research Program (NURP) and the National Ocean Exploration Program
(NOEP). Lautenbacher replied that the programs are related and managed
together. NURP is a deep diving program related to undersea observatories.
NOEP is broader, examining the whole ocean and includes studies of
seismic activity and the mid-ocean ridge, as well as mapping the ocean
floor. Baker added that NURP has never reached its full potential
of doing what NOEP does on a national level. He said NURP should underpin
NOEP and requires more funding.
Sources: Hearing testimony.
Contributed by Charna Meth, 2003 Spring Semester Intern; Gayle Levy AGI/AAPG 2004 Spring Semester Intern; Bridget Martin, AGI/AIPG 2004 Summer Intern; Ashlee Dere, AGI/AIPG 2004 Summer Intern and David Millar, AGI/AAPG 2004 Fall Semester Intern.
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Last updated on October 5, 2004.