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Summary of Hearings on Ocean Policy (7-24-08)

  • July 16, 2008: House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation hearing on “Coast Guard Ice-Breaking”
  • June 5, 2008: House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment Hearing on the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act (FOARAM)
  • June 5, 2007: House Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans Hearing on Several Ocean Bills

    House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation hearing on “Coast Guard Ice-Breaking”
    July 16, 2008

    Panel 1
    Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard

    Panel 2
    Dr. Aden Bement, Director, National Science Foundation (NSF)
    Mead Treadwell, Chair, U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC)

    Members Present:
    Elijah Cummings, Chairman (D-MO)
    Steven LaTourette, Ranking Member (R-OH)
    James Oberstar, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman (D-MN)
    Gene Taylor (D-MS)
    Don Young (R-AK)
    Rick Larsen (D-WA)
    Howard Coble (R-NC)
    Brian Baird (D-WA)
    Laura Richardson (D-CA)

    The hearing on “Coast Guard Ice-Breaking” focused on several issues regarding domestic and polar icebreaking, including a discussion on icebreaking missions, determining what resources are needed to accomplish the missions, and how to best provide the resources.  Of particular interest to the geoscience community was the discussion on the use of ice-breaking vessels for polar scientific research. 

    The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation heard testimony from the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and an administrative and congressional polar advisory body called the U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC).  The Coast Guard is currently responsible for the operation and maintenance of three U.S. owned ice-breaking vessels while the NSF is responsible for funding those vessels.  The NSF chairs the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) to coordinate Arctic research sponsored by federal agencies, and manages the U.S. Antarctica Program (USAP), including oversight of McMurdo Station.

    In their opening statements, subcommittee members Elijah Cummings (D-MO), Steven LaTourette (R-OH), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Don Young (R-AK), and Brian Baird (D-WA) expressed that global warming is increasing accessibility to Arctic shipping passages and resources as well as increasing the need for scientific research.  Cummings wanted to know if the research needs could be met more cost-effectively with private vessels, allowing the Coast Guard to expand its monitoring capacity.  LaTourette had heard that NSF was using Swedish ships and questioned why those were better than U.S. ships.  In general, the members indicated they hoped to hear more about the current state of the Coast Guard ice-breaking fleet and how to meet the needs of both the Coast Guard and NSF.  The witnesses concluded that the ice-breaking fleet is in poor condition and that at least three vessels in working condition are needed—whether the vessels are contracted or Coast Guard operated was a point of contention.  Also, the constraints on dual military and scientific usage have to be addressed so neither agency’s missions are compromised.

    Mead Treadwell of USARC discussed the importance of polar research and the current state of the Coast Guard ice-breaking fleet.  He stressed that climate change is causing ice to melt and new opportunities to open up, and it is happening faster than previously predicted.  Increased access to natural resources and shipping passages increases the needs and benefits of polar programs.  Treadwell listed a multitude of benefits, from economic development to national security to environmental protection. 

    To remain competitive, Treadwell recommends two polar class ships and ascension to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  “We foresee the U.S. Coast Guard Arctic icebreakers will be used as they are now—as research platforms and as the visible U.S. maritime presence in both polar regions.  But the advent of Arctic transportation means we expect the other, more traditional missions of the Coast Guard will take center state.”  The cost to build and maintain polar ice-breaking ships is expensive, but Treadwell believed the economic pay-offs would offset those costs.  He cited the U.S. Extended Continental Task Force’s estimates of energy and mineral resources in the extended continental shelf to be in excess of $1 trillion, which the U.S. could potentially claim if part of UNCLOS.  A polar fleet, according to Treadwell, could also work to “set and track our progress in meeting international climate goals.” He acknowledged that some of the research needs could be met by private vessels, but maintains that there “will be times that the nation itself wants to be sure it commands and controls that capability.”

    The Coast Guard’s view, as given by Adm. Thad Allen, was also that “demand is increasing while [Coast Guard] capacity is decreasing.”  The demand extends beyond the primary missions “in support of U.S. research interests in the Arctic and [to] help maintain resupply routes to Antarctica’s McMurdo Station.”  Now they include commerce, ecotourism, search and rescue, and other missions of national interest. 

    Currently, the Coast Guard has three polar class ships in varying states of readiness.  The Polar Sea and the Polar Star have both reached the end of their design life; however the Polar Sea went through extensive repairs and is now used as a back-up ship for NSF resupply of McMurdo Station as well as projected science missions in Fiscal Year (FY) 2009.  The Polar Star was laid-up in 2006 for repairs and requires significant work and time before being considered operational.  The last ship, the Healy, used for Arctic scientific research, only has medium ice-breaking abilities, and is mainly in use by other agencies.  Allen says all three need to be in operational condition in order for the Coast Guard to complete its work.

    The representatives were curious about the joint usage between the Coast Guard and NSF.  Allen implied that the current partnership was not ideal, because time to use the ships is at a premium.  Allen expressed that his primary interest is upholding the Coast Guard’s responsibility to maintain a visual presence and “project military, economic and political strength” at sea.  Once the Coast Guard can complete its missions, he will see how science fits into their operations.  When Baird asked if the Coast Guard can complete its missions, ice-breaking, and science missions Allen responded that it is possible, but that the vessels are not optimal science platforms.  Allen indicated he wanted to work with NSF, but need to work on improved readiness of the vessels for use by both agencies and fund transfers.

    Dr. Arden Bement spoke on behalf of NSF’s polar missions, indicating NSF’s goal to find the most cost-effective way to maintain its programs.  In the case of the Arctic and Antarctic programs that meant contracting ships from other countries, in particular Sweden and Russia.  The three main factors Bement considered were cost, performance, and policy.  Currently the Healy is more expensive to operate and has less time available for NSF use than contracted ships.  As for resupplying McMurdo, “the Coast Guard performed its ice-breaking mission with distinction, but with increasing difficulty recently” announced Bement.  The lack of available Coast Guard ice-breakers and the excellent performance by foreign ships led NSF to charter the Russian icebreaker Krasin, or the Swedish Oden in FY05, FY06, FY07, and FY08.  Bement recommended keeping the Healy, though its utility is limited and costly, for Arctic research.  He also wanted to invest in a new Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV) as an additional resource.  As for the Antarctic, Bement said, “given the rapidly escalating costs of government providers for icebreaking services and the uncertain availability of [Coast Guard] icebreakers beyond the next two years”, NSF intends to seek “competitive bids for icebreaking services that support the broad goals of the USAP.” 

    The representatives expressed concern with NSF using foreign ships.  They wanted to know if they were comparable, the differences in capabilities, and the risks of relying on other nations.  James Oberstar (D-MN) asked Bement for a comparison of the Polar Sea and the Oden.  Bement said they were comparable ships, just with slightly different operating mechanisms.  The Oden uses hydraulic methods to break the ice and water as the ballast while the Polar Star is more fuel intensive, both in ice-breaking and because it takes fuel from McMurdo to use as the ballast.  Bement told the representatives that fuel use is one of the big cost differences.  The other is personnel costs.  Since Coast Guard ships are military ships, they have over 100 crew members as opposed to 18 on the Oden.  The contract vessels are operated by career ice-breakers so it is less time consuming and costly to train crew members.  Less crew members also means more berthing for scientists and other research services.  The last cost benefit is ships like the Oden come at a fixed price regardless of any unforeseen maintenance problems.  Oberstar commented that it does not seem like NSF needs its own vessel.  Bement agreed that there is flexibility this way and NSF only pays for the time it needs, but acknowledged it is still good to have the Coast Guard to fall back on.

    Representative Laura Richardson (D-CA), was adamant about building a U.S. fleet.  She asked, “Why are we building up a foreign economy when we could be putting money into our own fleet?”  She wanted to push for more self-dependence as well as maintaining Coast Guard strength so the U.S. could come to the aid of other nations instead of being reliant on foreign assistance.  To this Bement replied, “We just carry out science goals in the most cost-effective way…The Coast Guard has 5 missions, 4 of which are completely beyond the scope of NSF.” 

    Chairman Cummings thanked the witnesses for their valuable information and for sounding the alarm.  There are a lot of assumptions as to what the U.S. can do, but Cummings is afraid that the U.S. is not ready.  He made the analogy of “waiting for rubber to meet the road then to discover there is no road” to describe the U.S. ice-breaking and polar capabilities.  “We can do better, as a nation we can do better.  And we are going to try and figure out, by working with the Coast Guard, trying to figure out how we can increase our capabilities so that we’re not in the position we’re in.” 

    Links to witness testimonies and can be found here.


    House Science and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment: Legislative Hearing on H.R. 4174
    June 5, 2008


    Panel I
    Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA), Member of Congress

    Panel II
    Dr. Richard A. Feely, Supervisory Chemical Oceanographer, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
    Dr. Joan Kleypas, Scientist, Institute for the Study of Society and Environment, National Center for Atmospheric Research
    Dr. Scott Doney, Senior Scientist, Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
    Dr. Ken Caldeira, Scientist, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science of Washington
    Mr. Brad Warren, Director, Productive Oceans Partnerships Program, Sustainable Fishery Partnership

    The FOARAM Act (H.R. 4174) 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. The subcommittee met to consider the current status of science on ocean acidification and research and monitoring activities focused on ocean acidification and its potential impacts on marine organisms and marine ecosystems.

    The opening statement of chairman Nick Lampson (D-TX) was brief. He provided an introduction to the scientific basis of ocean acidification, mentioning that the increased concentration of carbonic acid in the oceans is driven by its uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. He also highlighted current scientific concerns surrounding ocean acidification. These include the inability of certain marine organisms, such as corals and shellfish, to construct calcium carbonate shells in acidic waters. “Coral reefs and many of our fisheries are already compromised by over fishing, disease, pollution, and rising water temperatures,” said Lampson. “Ocean acidification is yet another stress that could dramatically and permanently alter our ocean environments.” Lampson ended his statement by noting that H.R. 4174 was introduced in November 2007 by Representative Tom Allen (D-ME).

    Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA), the first witness and co-author of the book Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy, spoke about his perennial interest in global warming and his education on the subject of ocean acidification. Inslee claimed that “for a long time, I thought it was a blessing that the oceans act as a sponge for carbon dioxide.” Now, however, he views ocean acidification as “a danger of global warming. When we mess with Mother Nature, it can bite us big time.”

    Dr. Feely explained and quantified ocean acidification. He said that ocean acidification is a consequence of climate change, for when excessive carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, it forms carbonic acid. Because the atmosphere and ocean are coupled, the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is forcing more carbon dioxide dissolution in the ocean. He reported that the oceans have absorbed about 525 billion tons of carbon dioxide—about one third of all anthropogenic emissions—over the course of the past two centuries. Daily, the surface ocean takes up 22 million tons of carbon dioxide.

    Dr. Feely noted that while ocean uptake of carbon dioxide may remove the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere and reduce global warming, the resultant ocean acidification harms marine organisms and thus ocean ecosystems. According to Dr. Feely, future predictions are that the oceans will become at least 150% more acidic as more carbon dioxide is absorbed. Dr. Feely concluded by saying that “much research is needed before an ecosystems response is understood.”

    To illustrate the way in which ocean acidification impedes organisms’ ability to make their carbonate shells, Dr. Kleypas mentioned the household experiment whereby an eggshell left in vinegar will soften as its calcium carbonate dissolves. Said Dr. Kleypas, “ocean acidification will cause reefs to erode away more quickly, but we can’t predict exactly what will happen.”

    Like Dr. Feely, Dr. Kleypas stressed the fact that more research needs to be done to understand ocean acidification and its impacts. Dr. Kleypas expressed support for H.R. 4174, saying “First, we need to take action to reduce CO2 emissions. But second, we need to conduct research.” To strengthen the bill, Dr. Kleypas offered two suggestions. She proposed that more funds—at least $5-55 million per year—be allocated for ocean acidification research and that the funds be directly allocated to the multiple federal agency partners rather than through distribution from NOAA.

    Dr. Doney started his statement with a summary of the status of ocean research in America. Dr. Doney claimed that “when it comes to ocean research, the U.S. is falling behind our European and Japanese colleagues.” He also mentioned the human and economic elements to ocean acidification, noting “fish and marine organisms provided, on average, 15.5% of the world’s protein in 2003; losses of crustaceans, bivalves, their predators, and their habitat (in the case of reef-associated fish communities) would particularly injure societies that depend heavily on consumption, export, and tourism of marine resources.”  Dr. Doney also recommended that $50-55 million per year be awarded to the ocean acidification research program.

    The last scientist on the second panel, Dr. Caldeira, talked about his doctoral research on ocean chemistry at the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary 65 million years ago when the Earth was hit by a giant meteorite. The impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other species, and it produced an enormous amount of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere and the oceans. Profound changes in the environment included ocean acidification. Dr. Caldeira noted that “nearly everything with a calcium carbonate shell or skeleton disappeared. Coral reefs weren’t seen again for two million years.” It is disconcerting, Dr. Caldeira continued, that “we need to go back tens of millions of years to find anything comparable to what we are doing to the oceans today.”

    Mr. Brad Warren, who was the last witness, mentioned three risks for the seafood industry associated with ocean acidification: the risk of fewer fish to harvest, the risk of market confusion, and the risk of a “panic button” response to the confusion.

    The question and answer period focused on the structuring of the proposed research program. Chairman Lampson and Representatives Brian Baird (D-WA) and Bob Inglis (R-SC) were all curious as to how the scientists believed the program should operate. Dr. Doney reiterated that, as the bill is currently written, “the funds are directed at NOAA. We want to make sure that NSF and the other agencies have a seat at the table.” The scientists on the panel concurred in saying that the research effort should be a cooperative one rather than one ultimately orchestrated by NOAA. When it was noted that ocean acidification is a global issue not specific to the United States, Dr. Caldeira responded with “we need global action but American leadership.”

    Witness testimony can be found here.
    The full text of the bill can be found here.


    House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans: Legislative Hearing on H. Con. Res. 147, H. Res. 186, H.R. 1834 and H.R. 2400
    June 5, 2007

    Craig McLean, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Programs and Administration, Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
    Robert Ballard, Ph.D., President, Institute for Exploration, Mystic Aquarium
    Larry A. Mayer, Ph.D., Professor and Director, Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, NOAA-UNH Joint Hydrographic Center, University of New Hampshire
    J. Frederick Grassle, Ph.D., Director, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University
    Walter McLeod, President, Clean Beaches Council
    Bob Richards, P.E., Vice President, Alaska Division, FUGRO PELAGOS, INC.

    On June 5, 2007, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans held a Legislative Hearing on two bills and two resolutions related to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Subcommittee Chair Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) noted that the week of June 5th was "Capitol Hill Oceans Week." As the representative from an island territory, she noted the importance of NOAA's work and the need for increased awareness of the role that oceans play in our lives. "The American public has only a superficial awareness" of the oceans, she explained. H.R. 2400, the Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act, which Bordallo introduced, takes into account recommendations that the National Research Council made in a report to the committee. The bill would establish "an integrated federal ocean and coastal mapping plan for the Great Lakes and coastal state waters, the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone, and the Continental Shelf of the United States." Bordallo stressed the need for communication and cooperation among various government agencies.

    Ranking Member Henry Brown (R-SC), who represents major tourist areas such as Myrtle Beach, described the importance of the oceans to tourism. "Nobody comes here to see myrtle," he quipped, "they come here to see the beach." Brown is the author of H. Con. Res. 147, which recognizes "200 years of NOAA research, service, and stewardship." He briefly spoke about NOAA, saying "coastal and ocean survey data is important… for the conservation of our coastal resources." He added that he supports "efforts to explore the oceans for scientific purposes." Brown also commended Frank Pallone (D-NJ) for authoring H. Res 186, the "National Clean Beaches Week" resolution.

    Craig McLean, the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Programs and Administration of NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, commented that the bills under consideration provide a "solid foundation" and "promote a greater understanding and knowledge of our oceans." He mentioned the benefits of "combining resources" with other governmental institutions, and thus supported the intent of H.R. 2400 and H.R. 1834, which authorizes the national ocean exploration program and the national undersea research program within the NOAA. McLean also stressed the need for an accessible registry of completed mapping projects in order to prevent duplicate research. Ocean research is "needed to maintain America's competitive edge in science and technology," he concluded.

    Robert Ballard, the president of the Institute for Exploration at the Mystic Aquarium, read a passionate testimony that documented the United State's long history of exploration. He mentioned President Jefferson's "foresight to create a survey of the coast," and made reference to the Lewis and Clark expedition as a driving force in America's early economy. "It is time to mount a modern day Lewis and Clark expedition," he surmised. Ballard also noted the significant advantage exploring oceanic resources would give over other countries, noting that "neither China nor India are ocean explorers. We need to explore the oceans… before other nations take advantage of our inaction." He described the oceans as something for humans to exploit, saying that increased NOAA mapping would "allow the oceans to offer up their resources to enrich the economy." Ballard claimed that NASA's yearly budget would support NOAA for 1639 years, and NOAA should be better funded as "our destiny is here on planet earth… or should I say ocean earth." When questioned by Bordallo about his previous comments that NOAA's Ocean Exploration and Undersea Research Programs should not be combined, Ballard stated that there was a new "synergy" between the programs, and he now believes that they should be combined.

    Larry A. Mayer, Professor and Director at the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, which is at the NOAA-University of New Hampshire Joint Hydrographic Center, mentioned that the United States depends on the oceans for a multitude of reasons, including food, national security, and recreation. "We need an integrated and coordinated process" for mapping the ocean floor, he stated, citing an example of one region of the Gulf of Mexico being mapped six times by six different groups who were all unaware of each other's work. He echoed McLean's call for an online registry of federal data to prevent this replication. Mayer expressed concern that the bills "do not go far enough," but stated that they are "a good initial step." J. Frederick Grassle, Director of the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University, also supported both bills under consideration, and called for an "enhancement of ocean literacy among our youth."

    Walter McLeod, President of the Clean Beaches Council, offered a perspective that differed from the other witnesses who focused on NOAA. McLeod focused instead on H. Res 186 and the importance of maintaining clean beaches for recreation. "More than half the population lives within 50 miles of the coasts," he stated, adding, "we are a nation of beach lovers." He tied the idea of clean beaches to concerns that could apply to NOAA, such as maintaining clean beaches to protect coastal habitats and marine species.

    Bob Richards, Vice President of the Alaska Division of FUGRO PELAGOS, an independent coastal mapping company, was happy to see an effort to increase coordination. He noted that accurate mapping data is necessary in order to accurately assess earthquake and tsunami hazards. He showed support for both bills, but urged the use of "stronger language to include the private sector" within the coordinative efforts.

    Representative Jim Saxton (R-NJ), expressed concern that some recent NOAA work, especially in the Long-term Ecosystem Observatory at 15 meters (LEO-15) program at Rutgers University, may be using out-of-date equipment. "In the two decades that I have been here, technology has run wild," he stated, and asked about NOAA's use of modern mapping equipment. Grassle described new systems including a high frequency radar system that allows modeling of sea breezes for better hurricane path prediction. He gave the accurately predicted path of Hurricane Ernesto as an example of its use. Grassle also mentioned advanced tagging technologies that work like "EZ-Pass for fish," recording data each time a fish passes near a sensor. "We are really learning a lot about fish habitats with new technologies," he said.

    Full text of the bills and resolutions can be found here:
    H.Con.Res 147


    Sources: Hearing testimony, CongressDaily

    Contributed by Corina Cerovski-Darriau, 2008 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Laura Bochner, 2008 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Paul Schramm, 2007 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern

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

    Last updated on July 16, 2008.

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