Oceans Policy (10-8-08)

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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.

Recent Action

National Sea Grant College Program Passed by Senate
National Sea Grant College Programs Amendment Act of 2008 (H.R. 5618) was passed by the Senate on September 26, 2008, and has been sent to the President for his approval. The bill aims to provide grants and contracts to support education, research, training, and management of the oceans, coastal areas, and major lakes. The research programs cover a variety of themes from creating models of the oceans, to studying coastal hazards and ecosystems, to working on marine biotechnology. The Sea Grant Act was last reauthorized in 2002. (9/08)

Previous Action

House Passes FOARAM Act of 2007
The House passed the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM) Act of 2007 (H.R. 4174) on July 9, 2008.  The bill was introduced by Representative Tom Allen (D-ME) in November 2007 as parallel legislation to Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)’s bill (S. 1581) which was passed out of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on May 22, 2008. 

As the oceans absorb more carbon from the atmosphere, the water is becoming more acidic.  The consequences pose serious threats for marine life.  "On top of overfishing, pollution and rising water temperatures, ocean acidification is stress that could dramatically and permanently alter our ocean environments," said House Science Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ocean acidity has increased by 30 percent since industrialization and increased carbon dioxide emissions have the potential to lower pH to its lowest level in 20 million years.

The FOARAM Act would establish an interagency committee tasked with coordinating ocean acidification activities across federal agencies.  The Senate version of the bill, S. 1581, specifies that a representative from NOAA chair the committee and membership include representatives from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  In both bills, the interagency committee would be responsible for organizing and expanding research programs with the following goals: to enhance understanding of the role of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems, to identify marine ecosystem conservation measures, and to investigate the socioeconomic impacts of ocean acidification. The legislation also would establish an ocean acidification program within NOAA.

Additionally, H.R. 4174 outlines research goals for NSF and NASA, which include the development of methodologies to examine ocean acidification and its impact and the use of space-based monitoring of acidification, respectively.  H.R. 4174 would authorize appropriations for NOAA at $8 million in fiscal year (FY) 2009 increasing to $20 million in FY 2012, and for NSF at $6 million in FY 2009 to $15 million in FY 2012. 

Unfortunately, the Senate rejected S.1581 and several other ocean research and conservation bills on July 29, 2008 just before leaving for their August recess. The rejected S.1581 would have authorized $10 million in appropriations in FY 2009 increasing to $30 million in FY 2013 with 40 percent of the funding retained by NOAA and 60 percent allocated equally to NSF, USGS, NASA, and FWS.

A large omnibus of 34 bills had been created in the Senate to try to surpass the holds placed on many of these non-controversial measures by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). The “omnibus” included S.1581, a BEACH act (S.2844) to help states monitor beach water quality, a bill to authorize the National Integrated Oceans Observing System (S.950), a bill to re-authorize the National Sea Grant College Program (S.3160), a bill to re-authorize and expand support for countries to conserve tropical forests and coral reefs, a measure to promote renewable energy in the Appalachian region (S.496) and a measure to extend the authority of a federal fund that invests in U.S.-based companies that work on projects in developing countries, including a new request to comply with climate change mitigation policies.

Click here for a hearing summary on the FOARAM Act.

The full text of H.R. 4174 is available from Thomas at:
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.04174:
The full text of S. 1581 is available from Thomas at:
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:s.01581: (07/08)

National Sea Grant College Programs Reauthorized by Committees
On June 24, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation unanimously approved the National Sea Grant College Programs Amendment Act of 2008 (S. 3160). The Senate allocated $675 million for Sea Grant programs and projects at colleges and universities. The funding would be disbursed over the next 5 years starting in fiscal year (FY) 2009. The House Science and Technology Committee also approved similar legislation (H.R. 5618) on June 25.

Both bills aim to provide grants and contracts to support education, research, training, and management of the oceans, coastal areas, and major lakes. The new amendments stress integrated research, extension services, and regional coordination between the Sea Grant partners.  The partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), states, industry groups, and university-based programs.

The Sea Grant research programs cover a variety of themes from creating models of the oceans, to studying coastal hazards and ecosystems, to working on marine biotechnology. The Sea Grant program was last reauthorized in 2002. The House bill was reintroduced in the House on March 13, 2008 by Representative Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU).

The bills now move to a possible vote by the full House and the full Senate, then a possible conference to compromise on any differences followed by final votes and with final approval from Congress a possible signature from the President. 

The full text of H.R. 5618 is available here.
The full text of S. 3160 is available here. (06/08)

House Science Committee Approves FOARAM Act of 2007

The House Committee on Science and Technology approved the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM) Act of 2007 (H.R. 4174) on June 25, 2008.  The bill was introduced by Representative Tom Allen (D-ME) in November 2007 as parallel legislation to Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)’s bill (S. 1581) introduced in June 2007.  S. 1581 was added to the senate legislative calendar as of May 2008 and H.R. 4174 will now move to the House floor for consideration.

The FOARAM Act would establish an interagency committee chaired by a representative from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Senior representatives from NOAA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Energy (DOE) would be charged with establishing an ocean acidification research program. The program would have several research goals: to enhance understanding of the role of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems, to identify marine ecosystem conservation measures, and to investigate the socioeconomic impacts of ocean acidification.

Click here for a hearing summary on the FOARAM Act.

The full textof H.R. 4174 is available here.
The full text of S. 1581 is available here. (06/08)

NOAA Organic Act Vote in House Subcommittee
A comprehensive ocean policy bill, H.R. 21, the Oceans Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century or the “OCEANS Act” was passed out of the Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee on April 23 by an 11-3 vote.

The legislation originally introduced by Representative Sam Farr (D-CA) formally establishes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has been operating by executive order since 1970.  It also implements a number of other recommendations from the United States Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission, including the establishment of a national oceans advisor for the President; a federal advisory committee on ocean policy; the designation of certain ocean regions for ecosystem-based management and establishes a regional ocean partnership for each region.

Ocean policy advocates have been pursuing comprehensive reform for three years and the passage of the OCEANS Act by the subcommittee represents the furthest the legislation has progressed.  The bill now will have to undergo examination by the full committee.  Similar legislation has not been introduced in the Senate lessening the likelihood the measure will be enacted this Congress. (04/08)

Full text of the bill can be accessed at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.R.21

Report Card on Ocean Policy
On February 27, 2008, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative released its third annual U.S. Ocean Policy Report Card. The report card assesses the nation’s progress in 2007 toward implementing the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission, as well as the actions described in the Administration’s U.S. Ocean Action Plan. The objective of the U.S. Ocean Policy Report Card is to inform policy makers and the public of the critical challenges facing our oceans, while identifying the many opportunities that are ripe for action. The report concludes that while state and regional initiatives continue to move forward on ocean governance reform, the lack of significant progress at the federal level to commit adequate funding and affect meaningful ocean policy reform hinders national improvement.

Overall the report gave U.S. ocean policy a C grade, which is a slight improvement over the C- grade it received in 2006. In the subcategory of international leadership, the policy moved from a D- to a C+ primarily because President Bush has endorsed ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved the convention and a coalition of military, public and private enterprises have also endorsed ratification of the convention. AGI, AGU and a coalition of other scientific organizations have also offered letters of support for the ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention to Senate leadership.
There is hope that the Senate may ratify the treaty in 2008, but the issue is currently not on the Senate calendar.
More information and the full text of the report is available from the Joint Initiative web site at http://www.jointoceancommission.org/ (2-27-08)

House Passes Oceans Research Bill
On February 14, 2008, by a vote of 352-49, the House of Representatives passed the National Ocean Exploration Act (H.R. 1834), which would officially establish the ocean research and exploration programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The legislation authorizes a total of $486 million for the Ocean Exploration Program and $265 million for the Undersea Research Program over seven years. Congressman Jim Saxton (R-NJ), the legislation’s sponsor said, "These two programs are core to the mission of NOAA. The bill opens the door to discovering new marine organisms that might yield therapeutic benefits, as well as exploring shipwrecks and submerged sites. The oceans hold many secrets about the past, present, and future."

The Senate has a similar bill pending in a committee entitled "Ocean and Coastal Exploration and NOAA Act (OCEAN Act)" (S.39), which is a combination of H.R. 1834 and H.R. 2400, the Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act. H.R. 2400 passed the House in July, 2007 and is waiting for action in the Senate.

The full text of the bill is available from Thomas at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:h.r.01834:
(2-14-08)

Chambers Pass Coral Reef Conservation
On October 30, 2007, the Senate Commerce Committee passed a Coral Reef Conservation Act (S.1580) following similar action by the House a week earlier. The measure re-authorizes a federal statute that protects coral reefs, would codify a coral reef conservation task force and expand the coral reef conservation program among other things. According to E&E Daily, 30 ocean advocacy groups and 180 coral reef scientists sent letters to Congress asking them to support this legislation. The legislation now awaits a conference committee, possible final votes in both chambers and the President's signature before it can become law.

The full text of the legislation is available from Thomas. (11-19-07)

Congress Sails Ahead on Ocean Bills
The House Science and Technology Committee approved of the "National Ocean Exploration Program Act" (H.R. 1834) on October 24, 2007. The measure would authorize $486 million for ocean exploration and $265 million for undersea research between 2008 and 2017 at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both programs have existed for years but have never operated with formal authorization. The Senate has a similar bill pending in a committee entitled "Ocean and Coastal Exploration and NOAA Act (OCEAN Act)" (S.39), which is a combination of H.R. 1834 and H.R. 2400, the Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act. H.R. 2400 passed the House in July and is waiting for action in the Senate.

It is unclear at this time whether these ocean research bills can make progress toward enactment by the end of 2007, given the backlog of appropriation bills and continued interest in passing energy and climate change legislation first.

The full text of the legislation is available from Thomas. (11-19-07)

Senate Considers Law of the Sea

The Senate is holding hearings about U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Law of the Sea establishes territorial waters within 12 nautical miles and exclusive economic zones within 200 nautical miles of coastal States for the purposes of "…exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds". It provides the coastal State with jurisdiction of artificial structures, marine scientific research and the protection and preservation of the marine environment. The Law of the Sea also sets forth rules for navigation in international waters and other relevant issues.

President Bush, the U.S. military, the mining, gas and oil industries and environmental groups all favor ratification, which would help to protect U.S. interests and allow access to the sea and seafloor for exploration, research and conservation. Although some staunch conservatives have strongly opposed ratification because they believe the Law of the Sea threatens U.S. sovereignty, the Senate believes they may have the 67 votes needed to ratify the convention. Still several conservative senators have promised to do whatever it takes to block the Law of the Sea from coming to a vote on the floor of the Capitol and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated that the Law of the Sea is not one of his priorities for scheduling for a floor vote.

The full text of the Law of the Sea is available from the United Nations web page (10-4-07)

Senate Committee Passes Ocean Exploration Bill
On February 13, Senate bill S. 39, entitled "Ocean and Coastal Exploration and NOAA Act (OCEAN Act)" was approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The measure, if successful in the full Senate and House, would authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in concert with the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies, to spend $486 million over 10 years on a coordinated program with a focus on deep sea regions research, the location of historic shipwrecks and submerged sites, and public education programs. An amendment to the bill would also require NOAA to study and evaluate U.S. coastal resources, with a focus on wave, current, tidal and biological resources in the coastal areas.

In addition, S. 39 also authorizes $278 million for an undersea research program to establish a national undersea research center and research projects on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Another $296 million would fund a coordinated effort to map federal coastlines, the Exclusive Economic Zone, the outer continental shelf, other territorial waters and the Great Lakes, as well as three joint hydrographic centers to aid the mapping project. (3-6-07)

U.S. Coast Guard and marine debris management
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)

House Committee Passes NOAA Organic Act
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 failed 15-19.

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)

Background

The Marine Resources and Engineering Development Act of 1966 was the first legislation to define a national ocean policy. The bill 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 with recommendations that led to the creation of the National Sea Grant College Programs, the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  In the late 1980s the United States recognized the need to more clearly define ocean policy, but legislation to create an oceans commission repeatedly failed to pass Congress.  Instead, an independent group of experts created the Pew Oceans Commission in 2000 to lead a national dialogue on policies to restore and protect marine resources.  At the same time a rise in the nation's population living near coasts, increased development of ocean resources, and an increasingly complex legal framework associated with environmental threats led Congress to pass the Oceans Act of 2000.  The legislation established the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy with the purpose of issuing findings and recommendations to the President and Congress on national ocean policy issues ranging from stewardship, to environmental protection, governance, and research.

The Oceans Act of 2000 required the Bush Administration to submit an implementation plan to Congress in response to the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.  This resulted in President Bush’s U.S. Ocean Action Plan and the creation of a Committee on Ocean Policy within the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality.  The Committee on Ocean Policy established an ocean governance structure composed of subsidiary bodies to coordinate existing management and help oversee the implementation of the recommendations.

The Pew Ocean Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy joined forces in early 2005 establishing the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.  At the request of Congress, the joint commission issued a report in June 2006 entitled From Sea to Shining Sea: Priorities for Ocean Policy Reform — A Report to the United States Senate.  The 10 prioritized actions needed to implement the commissions’ recommendations listed in the report are:

  1. Adopt a statement of national ocean policy;
  2. Pass an organic act to establish NOAA in law and work with the Administration to identify and act upon opportunities to improve federal agency coordination on ocean and coastal issues;
  3. Foster ecosystem-based regional governance;
  4. Reauthorize an improved Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act;
  5. Enact legislation to support innovation and competition in ocean related research and education consistent with key initiatives in the Bush Administration’s Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy;
  6. Enact legislation to authorize and fund the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) to monitor ocean health;
  7. Accede to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (see background below);
  8. Establish an Ocean Trust Fund, with monetary input generated from outer continental shelf (OCS) oil and gas revenues, as a dedicated source of funds for improved management and understanding of ocean and coastal resources by federal and state governments;
  9. Increase base funding for core ocean and coastal programs and direct development of an integrated ocean budget; and
  10. Enact ocean and coastal legislation that progressed significantly in the 109th Congress.

In addition, the joint commission reported that the four highest priority areas for funding are: ocean governance and coastal management; ocean science and research; monitoring, observing, and mapping the oceans; and education and outreach.

Congress has continued to consider ocean policy and management recommendations of the joint commission and to monitor the President’s progress on implementing and responding to those recommendations.  Improvements continue to be made in ocean policy ranging from changes in the organization and administrative structure of ocean research and governance, to specific improvements to ocean and coastal mapping and observation.

The Oceans Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century (OCEANS-21) Act (H.R. 21) has received attention in the 110th Congress as it would implement a number of the Joint Ocean Commission’s recommendations including the formal establishment of NOAA and the Committee on Ocean Policy.  The legislation is touted as a comprehensive national oceans policy to protect, maintain, and promote the coasts, Great Lakes, and oceans.  Other key ocean legislation for the 110th Congress is the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM) Act of 2007 (H.R. 4174).  The FOARAM Act passed the House in June 2008 and has been placed on the Senate legislative calendar.  The legislation would establish a research program overseen by NOAA to enhance understanding of the role of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems, to identify marine ecosystem conservation measures, and to investigate the socioeconomic impacts of ocean acidification. 

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
With the melting of the arctic ice sheet, there are increasing opportunities for navigation, shipping, exploration and extraction of natural resources. Indeed the potential natural resources are considered so significant that multiple nations are staking claims to large areas of seafloor beneath the ever-changing ice cap. The melting ice has again drawn attention to the United Nations’ Law of the Sea Treaty, which governs activities on, over, and under the world’s oceans and defines the extent of territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones for signatory nations.  According to the treaty, a nation has the rights to the resources in its territorial waters, and sole exploration rights within its Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 200 nautical miles off of its coastline. The Exclusive Economic Zone can be extended up to 350 nautical miles if a nation can prove it is still the continental shelf.  In 2007, the Russians claimed a broad swath of the north polar seafloor, including the North Pole, because new research suggested the Russian continental shelf extends through area. The Russians, who have already ratified the treaty, have filed a claim for the area with the United Nations.

The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea was opened for signature in December 1982. President Reagan refused to accede to the treaty because of objections related to deep seabed mining. After revisions to the deep sea mining provisions President Clinton chose to sign the treaty and requested approval from the Senate.  The Senate has not considered the treaty on the floor.  In May 2007, President Bush expressed his support and urged the Senate to approve of the treaty.  As of July 2008, the treaty is still pending a vote in the full Senate, though the Committee on Foreign Relations approved ratification in February 2004 and October 2007.  The treaty will likely remain in this limbo until proponents believe they have enough votes to meet the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution.  Opponents fear that accepting the treaty will limit U.S. sovereignty over ocean exploration, while supporters fear the U.S. will lose claims to vital ocean assets if it is not a part of the treaty.

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 Policy, CRS Report on Ocean Policy.

Contributed by David R. Millar 2004 AGI/AIPG Fall Semester Intern, Katie Ackerly Government Affairs Staff, Tim Donahue 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern, Rachel Bleshman 2006 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern, Erin Gleeson 2007 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, and Corina Cerovski-Darriau 2008 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern..

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on October 8, 2008.