Oceans Policy (10-12-06)
Oceans cover about 71% of Earth's surface and are an integral part
of many Earth systems, including climate and weather. The oceans also
contain most of Earth's biomass, with 80% of all known phyla found
only in the oceans. Yet, we know more about Mars than we know about
marine systems. Advances in research capabilities have led to improved
understanding of marine and coastal systems, however, many are concerned
that new technology has not increased enough to keep pace with our
exploration needs. In addition the United States may be falling behind
other nations in ocean exploration and observation programs. Oceans
have recently received congressional attention for their ecological
preservation and scientific value.
On September 20, the House Committee on Science approved
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Organic
5450) introduced by House Science Environment, Technology, and
Standards Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI). According to
a Committee press release, this bill would clarify and codify the
functions and responsibilities of NOAA for the first time in the agency's
history. It would also increase congressional oversight of the agency.
The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, made up of members
of earlier ocean advisory committees, said that more than 20 measures
have been proposed since 1971 in order to codify the agency, yet none
have ever been carried out to completion. As a result, NOAA still
operates under an Executive Order from 1970.
5450 has advanced further in the House than previous bills, no
comparable legislation has been passed in the Senate. Moreover, the
legislation lacks a provision on oceans and fisheries, areas under
the jurisdiction of the House Resources Committee. (10/12/06)
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
met on June 28 to markup ocean legislation relating to the U.S. Coast
Guard and marine debris management. Originating in the Senate (S.
362) and sponsored by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the bill passed
the committee by a voice vote. "Whether the mission involves
saving thousands of lives, responding to oil spills, keeping our ports
and waterways open, or boarding a suspicious vessel, the men and women
of the Coast Guard work tirelessly," said Rep. Frank LoBiondo
(R-NJ) in support of the bill. LoBiondo successfully sponsored an
amendment to reduce funding from $75 million to $65 million from fiscal
year 2006 to 2010.
The bill directs the Coast Guard to establish a system of tracking,
disposing, and preventing the further release of marine debris. It
encourages international and domestic cooperation among maritime industries,
and to engage in education to inform industries of common practices
which reduce marine debris. Maritime debris poses a hazard for oceanic
ecosystems, especially materials such as plastics which may take hundreds
of years to decompose. Debris can also damage ships and have a severe
effect on tourism for coastal states.
The bill is ready for conference with the Senate. (7/06/06)
On June 14, 2006, the House Science Committee passed a bill to codify
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) into legislation.
Commonly called the NOAA Organic Act, H.R.
5450 defines the agency's mission and management structure in
U.S. law. "It would give this key science agency, which was created
by Executive Order, a firm legal basis for its full range of activities
and responsibilities," remarked Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert
(R-NY). Currently, NOAA management structure originates from the original
Executive Order which established the administration.
The committee passed three amendments. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL)
sponsored an amendment requiring NOAA to report contracts and services
purchased overseas, pursuant to the Buy American Act. Rep. Mark Udall
(D-CO) sponsored an amendment seeking to control program costs by
notifying congress of project delays and rising costs. The last amendment
sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), requires NOAA to pass
emergency weather information to other federal agencies.
Two science integrity related bills failed. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.Y.)
proposed an amendment to ensure that research is not tampered with
and that scientific data is not censured. Ranking member Bart Gordon
(D-TN) argued for the amendment, saying "If we can't get it done,
I don't know when it can be." Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (D-N.Y.)
opposed the measure, stating it will essentially kill the entire bill
by sending it to the Government Reform Committee. The amendment failed
13-17 on a party line vote. The other amendment would prevent the
White House from reviewing reports requested by Congress. This amendment
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Act (H.R.5450)
has been referred to the House Resources committee. For further information,
consult the Science Committee website. (6/21/2006)
On July 1, 2005, the full Senate passed S.
361, the Ocean and Coastal Observation System Act, which would
direct the President, acting through the National Ocean Research Leadership
Council, to establish a national program to provide continuous and
comprehensive data on changes in ocean and coastal conditions. The
bill was introduced earlier this year by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME)
who modeled the program after the Gulf
of Maine Ocean Observation System (GoMOOS). According to a press
release from Senator Snowe's office, the idea behind this new
national data system is to "augment and integrate a loosely-knit
network of regional observation systems currently established in coastal
zones across the country, giving all those who count on consistent
and complete ocean data access to real-time information." The
bill authorizes $150 million for each of fiscal years 2006 through
2010, with at least 50% of the appropriate funds directed to regional
associations certified by NOAA that are responsible for the system's
implementation. In the House, hearings
have been held but no action has been taken on H.R.
1489, an unrelated but similar plan to establish an ocean and
coastal observing system.
Snowe introduced the bill primarily in response to concerns
over hazard preparedness following the December 26, 2004 tsunami disaster,
from the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee also
indicate that the bill reflects recommendations made by the National
Commission on Ocean Policy. In addition to facilitating timely hazard
alerts to coastal communities through the use of buoys, satellites,
and other instrumentation, the bill seeks to facilitate the coordination
of state and federal agencies with regional observing systems. It
would also establish a research and development program "to study
the relationship between ocean conditions and human activities, develop
new observation technologies...and improve public education."
Bill sponsors hope that the bipartisan legislation will
benefit not only hazard warning capabilities but also have a positive
impact on port security, enhance studies of fisheries and other ocean
resources under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA), and provide the Coast Guard with information needed to respond
efficiently to search and rescue activities and other missions. (7/20/05)
On May 17, 2005, the House Science committee passed
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration "organic
50), which defines NOAA's mission, formalizes the agency's major
functions, and enhances its organizational structure. "Our bill
will do more than merely found NOAA in law," said committee Chairman
Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) during the mark-up. "It will raise the
profile of science at NOAA and improve its management."
Regarding NOAA's mission, the bill states:
"The Mission of the Administration is to understand the
systems of the Earth's oceans and atmosphere, [to] predict changes
in the Earth's oceans and atmosphere and the effects of such changes
on the land environment, to conserve and manage coastal, ocean,
and Great Lakes ecosystems to meet national economic, social,
and environmental needs, and to educate the public about these
H.R. 50 mandates that NOAA's functions be organized over the next
two years according to four directorates: the National Weather Service,
research and education, operations and services, and resource management.
However, the bill only codifies the functions pertaining to science
and technology research, education, and weather prediction. To oversee
these functions, the bill would add a deputy assistant secretary of
science and technology. The bill leaves out some of the most critical
agency functions for addressing ocean ecosystem health, such as fisheries
assessment, coastal zone management, and ocean mapping and charting
because resource management issues do not fall under the Science committee's
The House Resources subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries began its
consideration of H.R. 50 in a hearing
on May 19, 2005. At the hearing, Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) said
his subcommittee would work within the Science committee's bill to
add its own provisions rather than forming separate legislation that
would have to be resolved with H.R. 50 later by the House Rules committee.
Although Gilchrest expressed an urgency to pass the legislation, he
also called for patience with congress. Tackling NOAA's resource management
responsibilities may prove more contentious than NOAA's science and
research functions, as Congress and the Administration currently disagree
on how specific or prescriptive these mandates should be. Click
here to read about recent hearings on the NOAA organic act and
ocean policy. (5/20/05)
On April 6, 2005, Representative Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Chairman
of the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans, introduced
The Coastal Ocean Observation System Integration and Implementation
Act of 2005 (H.R.
1489), which would authorize $130 million to the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to implement a coordinated interagency
observation system that would provide information and support for
a National Integrated Ocean Observation system. Under the plan, funds
would be phased in over four years, authorizing $25 million in 2005,
$30 million in 2006, $35 million in 2007, and $40 million in 2008.
Federal and non-federal data collection systems would work together
to sustain technology and effective data distribution. It is unclear
in the text of the bill how the National Integrated Ocean Observation
System (IOOS) would relate to the Global
Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS. Click
here for a review of legislative hearings on H.R. 1489. (4/22/05)
On March 15, 2005, the House Science subcommittee on Environment,
Technology and Standards approved H.R.
50, known as the "NOAA Organic Act." If enacted, the
bill would be the first ever congressional mandate to systemize the
National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration's structure and operations.
This and other proposals were crafted in response to the U.S. Commission
on Ocean Policy report, which found that NOAA lacked the research
and federal oversight to effectively protect ocean ecosystems. The
legislation proposes an agency reorganization around four primary
goals: the National Weather Service, research and education, operations
and services, and resource management. It would also establish a Deputy
Assistant Secretary position for science and technology to oversee
ocean research programs, and it would codify the NOAA Science Advisory
Board, which advises the NOAA administrator on strategies for research,
education and the application of science. (3/16/05)
On March 7, 2005, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation
Committee approved the passage of four bills to improve ocean research
and education, including S. 50, the Tsunami Preparedness Act of 2005.
50 was introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) in response
to the tsunami disaster in December, 2004. It would authorize $35
million each year through 2012 for the National Oceanographic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to coordinate regional detection
and warning systems for the basins bordering the US. NOAA is to integrate
new observing equipment with global efforts and seismic information
provided by the USGS. The committee also approved a manager's amendment
to the bill that calls for a $5 million program to better prepare
the nation's coastal communities for tsunami and other hazards. Review
House and Senate hearings on Tsunami mitigation policy at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis109/tsunami_hearings.html.
362, also introduced by Inouye, would authorize $15 million each
year to NOAA and the Coast Guard to map the sources and impacts of
marine debris, enforce penalties for fishers and other ships who dump
garbage and gear into the ocean, and provide grants for cooperative
39, sponsored by Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK), would
establish an ocean exploration program. NOAA would recieve up to $45
million per year through 2010 and $55 million per year through 2017
to lead universities and other agencies in deep sea voyages, ship-wreck
studies, scientific research, and public education programs.
361, introduced by Olympia Snowe (R-ME), would call for "such
sums as may be necessary" for improved ocean and coastal observation
data systems to predict changes in the ocean environment. (3/14/05)
The Marine Resources and Engineering Development Act of 1966 was
the first legislation to define a national ocean policy. The Act created
a commission -- commonly referred to as the Stratton Commission after
its chairman Dr. Julius Stratton -- that examined development, utilization,
and preservation of the marine environment. In 1969, the Stratton
Commission submitted a report to Congress entitled Our
Nation and the Sea. The Stratton Commission laid the foundation
for the Coastal Zone Management Act, and Fishery Conservation and
Management Act. Also in response to the Commission report, President
Nixon created The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
by executive order in 1970, and placed it within the Department of
Commerce. NOAA was formed as an amalgamation of some of the oldest
federal science agencies responsible for atmospheric research and
ocean resources; including the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey,
formed in 1807, the Weather Bureau, formed in 1870, and the Bureau
of Commercial Fisheries, formed in 1871. Unlike other federal science
agencies, NOAA has never recieved a congressional mandate.
In 1998, the International
Year of the Ocean, a number of changes in ocean use were recognized,
including a rise in the nation's population living near coasts and
increased development of ocean resources. These changes were accompanied
by new scientific discoveries that were changing the nation's perception
of oceans, namely that oceans and coasts are not boundless as previously
believed, but have limits making them vulnerable to pollution and
other human activities. In light of the increasing complex environmental
threats and legal framework related to oceans, Congress passed the
Act of 2000. The act established a new U.S.
Commission on Ocean Policy to address stewardship of marine resources
and pollution prevention; enhance and support marine commerce, transportation,
and science; and develop and implement a comprehensive, long-range
national policy to explore, protect, and use ocean and coastal resources.
The Commission on Ocean Policy, comprised of 16 members, completed
its information-gathering phase in October 2002 and released its final
report on April 20, 2004.
The report recommends reorganizing
the fragmented system of federal oversight by consolidating much of
the ocean management authority within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), which contains both the National Marine Fisheries
Service and the National Ocean Service. The report contains over 200
recommendations for Congress and cabinet agencies. The commission
recommends moving ocean management toward an "ecosystem-based"
model that respects natural boundaries rather than political ones.
One of the most important recommendations of the commission is for
the president to create a National Ocean Council within the White
House by executive order. The report also recommends that NOAA be
given the lead role in ocean and coastal management, although the
Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers would
still have some oversight. In addition, the commission recommends
that NOAA be the lead agency for overseeing marine aquaculture and
that a new office of sustainable aquaculture be established within
NOAA. Revenues generated by outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and
gas revenues would establish an Ocean Policy Trust Fund, similar to
the Highway Trust Fund. Federal revenue from OCS activities would
be invested in grants to coastal states and states where OCS drilling
takes place so that they would receive a greater share of funds to
help pay for environmental cleanup costs. Lastly, the commission recommends
building an Integrated Ocean Observing System to monitor ocean health.
Just like the Oceans Commission Report, the Pew Oceans Commission
study released in June 2003 called for a National Ocean Policy Act
and the creation of an independent agency to oversee such policy.
Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change," the report
blames the state of the world's oceans on overfishing, overdevelopment
in coastal areas and pollution runoff, which have been inadequately
controlled under the US's "hodgepodge" of 140 different
oceans management laws. The study requested national EPA standards
for nutrient runoff pollution and stricter limits on pollution from
animal feeding operations and cruise ships. The government was also
encouraged to protect coastal habitats and promote "smart land
With impetus from the two landmark reports, lawmakers set their focus
on oceans legislation including S.2280,
a bill to establish a coordinated national ocean exploration program
within NOAA, S.2488
a bill to establish a marine debris removal program, and S.2647,
also known as the NOAA "Organic Act," to define NOAA's national
mission for the first time. There has been talk of major restructuring
of NOAA, which may be transferred to the Interior Department and given
broader powers and a greater intergovernmental leadership role. S.2280
and S.2488 both passed unanimously on the Senate floor and sent to
the House for consideration.
On the House side, the House Oceans Caucus also introduced their
comprehensive oceans legislation. H.R.
4900, titled "Oceans-21"contains an organic act for
NOAA with an ecosystem-based management approach. Oceans-21 would
keep NOAA in the Department of Commerce, but would request an executive
branch report that would investigate creating a new department of
natural resources. Additionally, Rep. Greenwood (R-PA) introduced
4897, a deep-sea coral protection bill that is a companion to
1953 by Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ). That bill would establish Coral
Management Areas to protect deep-sea coral concentrations, prohibit
destructive fishing gear use, and increase funding for the research
and mapping of coral. Rep. Rahall (D-WV) authored H.R.
4706 that would seek to reform the regional fishery management
councils that set fishing quotas, a subject not addressed in the Oceans-21
legislation. The bill would increase representation of conservation
and scientific advisory groups on these councils, and is currently
pending before the Resources Committee. Eventhough the House failed
to pass any of the oceans bills by the end of the 108th Congress,
it will undoubtedly come up again in the 109th Congress.
Sources: Council on Environmental Quality; Environment and Energy
Daily, Hearing Testimony, Greenwire, House Science Committee Press
Release, National Council for Science and the Environment, Thomas,
House Resources Committee Press Release, U.S. Commission on Ocean
Contributed by David R. Millar 2004 AGI/AIPG Fall Semester Intern,
Katie Ackerly Government Affairs Staff, Tim Donahue 2006 AGI/AIPG
Summer Intern, and Rachel Bleshman 2006 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.
Background section includes material from AGI's Update
on Oceans Legislation for the 108th Congress.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI
Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on October 12, 2006.