Oceans Policy (10-8-08)
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.
National Sea Grant College Program Passed by Senate
House Passes FOARAM Act of 2007
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.
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 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 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.
NOAA Organic Act Vote in House Subcommittee
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
House Passes Oceans Research Bill
Chambers Pass Coral Reef Conservation
The full text of the legislation is available from Thomas. (11-19-07)
Congress Sails Ahead on Ocean Bills
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)
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
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)
Guard and marine debris management
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
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)
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:
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
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.