Clean water is a valuable natural resource that contributes to the health of the ecosystem, agriculture, and population. Congress has held hearings and worked on legislation that regulates navigable waters, drinking water, wetland preservation, wastewater treatment, vitality of the Great Lakes, and the problems with increasing water demand. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), work to protect U.S. water resources.
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. 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. Oceans have recently received congressional attention for their ecological preservation, scientific value, and potential resources. This section covers all ocean and water policy, including policy relate to the Law of the Sea and the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Additional information on the OCS can also be found on AGI’s energy policy page.
Japan Gives NOAA $5 Million for Tsunami Marine Debris Research
On November 30, the Government of Japan announced a $5 million gift to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to support response efforts for the marine debris created by the March 2011 tsunami in Japan, which has crossed the Pacific Ocean and is now washing ashore in the U.S.
The fund will go to NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and will be used to support response efforts such as removal of debris, disposal fees, cleanup supplies, detection and monitoring.
Since the tsunami, NOAA has been leading a response effort with the federal, state and local partners to organize for data collection, debris assessment, and reducing environmental impacts of the marine debris.
U.S. and Mexico Sign Colorado River Agreement
On November 19, officials from the U.S. and Mexico have signed an agreement on managing Colorado River water resources.
The U.S. and Mexico have agreed to plan for future drought by allowing Mexico to store water in Lake Mead during times of water surplus in return for tapping less water from the River during dry periods. Under the five-year agreement, Mexico will receive $21 million for repairs to irrigation canals and other infrastructure damaged by an earthquake in 2010. Such repairs will allow agricultural production to resume on thousands of acres of farmland which has dried up.
Arizona, California and Nevada, the three lower basin states, will purchase about 1000,000 acre-feet of water from Mexico, which would provide water for 200,000 homes for a year. The U.S. pledged to buy additional water to support restoration of the Colorado River Delta. Over the decades, areas of the delta have dried up due to diversions down stream causing agricultural lands to become unfertile as well.
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U.S., Canada sign Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (09/12)
Canada and the U.S. signed an amended version of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement on September 7, 2012. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, first signed in 1972 and last amended in 1987, is a commitment by both nations to restore and maintain the Great Lakes which contain 21 percent of the world’s fresh surface water.
New requirements address the nearshore environment, threats from invasive species such as the Asian carp, habitat degradation and climate change and the amendments support continued work on existing threats to people's health and the environment such as harmful algae, toxic chemicals, and discharges from vessels.
House Halves Marine Debris Research Program Authorization (08/12)
On August 1, the House of Representatives passed the Marine Debris Act Amendments of 2012 (H.R. 1171), continuing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Program (MDP) but reducing its authorization levels by half. The bill, introduced by Representative Sam Farr (D-CA), authorizes $4.9 million to the program, less than half of the previously authorized $10 million.
This cut comes despite reports of debris from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami washing up on the west coast and Hawaiian beaches. The state of Alaska has already spent $200,000 monitoring debris from the air, but much of the remaining debris is too small to see from long distances.
NSF Announces Marine Debris Rapid Response Research Grant Opportunity (08/12)
On August 9, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released a letter announcing a Rapid Response Research (RAPID) funding opportunity. NSF announced this RAPID grant to address marine debris from the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that five million tons of debris was pulled into the Pacific Ocean by the tsunami. The agency has determined that the majority of heavy waste sank, but the remaining debris has begun to wash ashore in the western U.S. and will continue until 2014. The RAPID will fund scientists conducting research on the debris field and testing facilities or equipment relevant to debris cleanup.
NSF Directorates for Biological Sciences, Geosciences, Engineering, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and Computer & Information Science & Engineering and the Office of Cyberinfrastructure will accept proposals for funding through the RAPID grant. Previous RAPID grants have been announced after the tsunami itself, the New Zealand 6.3 magnitude earthquake in 2011 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
UN Introduces Ocean Protection Plan (08/12)
On August 12, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced an international oceans protection plan at an event commemorating the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS) (Treaty Doc. 103-39). The protection plan, called the Ocean Compact, will support policies emplaced by LOS and the UN Conference for Sustainable Development (Rio+20).
The Ocean Compact came in conjunction with the Yesou Declaration Forum in South Korea which focused on sustainable ocean development and protection of Earth’s coastlines. Ban said the plan will address ocean acidification, pollution and invasive marine species. The secretary-general discussed how the plan will address ocean heating and rising sea levels worldwide.
Senate Foreign Relations Reports Global Water Bill (06/12)
On June 19, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passed the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2011 (S.641) without amendment. The bill would help provide access to clean and sustainable drinking water for almost one billion people worldwide. The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and has wide bi-partisan support.
The bill would amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (P.L. 87-195) to create a Senior Advisor for Water position at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The Senior Advisor for water will develop and oversee country-specific water strategies in high priority countries and give further capacity to the Department of State to address global safe water, sanitation, and integrated river basin management issues.
The bill is named after Senator Paul Simon (D-IL) who served in the Senate in the 1980s and 1990s. The bill is named for Simon because he warned about a fresh water crisis in the developing world in his book Tapped Out: The Coming World Crisis in Water and What We Can Do About It.
USGS Releases Groundwater Quality Trends for 1998-2010 (06/12)
On May 30, the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program released the latest groundwater quality trends for 1998-2010. The report showed concentrations of nitrate, chloride and other dissolved solids sampled across the country. NAWQA reported that while concentrations met the guidelines for drinking water set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pollutant concentrations have increased since the 1990s at most sites.
The report includes an interactive map which displays the change in nitrate, chloride and dissolved solid concentrations in groundwater at 56 testing sites (54 were tested for dissolved solids) between 1998 and 2010. Almost all sites that underwent a significant change in groundwater content saw an increase in pollutant concentration as large as 50 milligrams per liter. The map shows the aquifer types for the different sites surveyed across the U.S.
At eight groundwater study sites, NAWQA investigated potential factors affecting the trend such as improved methods of geochemical dating, contaminant degradation rates, contaminant distribution and reduction-oxidation conditions related to dissolved organic carbon. Dating groundwater-recharge was found to be one of the most important factors in determining groundwater-quality trends.
NAWQA projected groundwater-quality trends as part of the report. A publications page is included with projects cited in the report as well as statistical methods and ecosystem reports from 2008 by the Heinz Center and EPA.
Accelerating Sea Level Rise Along U.S. Atlantic Coast (06/12)
The rate of sea level rise (SLR) is occurring three to four times higher than the global average along the Atlantic coast stretching from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina to Boston, Massachusetts according to research done by scientists at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and published on June 24 in Nature Climate Change. Global SLR is currently increasing at a rate of 0.6 to 1.0 millimeters per year, whereas the Atlantic “hotspot” rate of increase is 2 to 3.7 millimeters per year. This accelerated rate is estimated to yield an 8 to 11.4 inch sea level increase by 2100 along the U.S. Atlantic Coast.
Estimates in the report were made using the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on emissions scenarios, tide gage records, global positioning system measurements of vertical land motion, and satellite measurements of ice melt. Changes in sea level along the hotspot are affected by a number of variables including global temperature rise, decrease in ocean water density from ice melt, strength of the gyre system, aerosols in the atmosphere, and the slowdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current. In addition to global climate patterns, local oceanographic and atmospheric conditions can affect the magnitude of sea level rise projections and the associated level of uncertainty.
Sea level rise impacts communities by increasing coastal vulnerability to storm surges, intensifying flooding events, and making beaches and wetlands susceptible to deterioration. Research and models show that rates of SLR will continue to increase if global temperatures continue to rise. The USGS researchers suggest the sea level projections outlined in the report should be considered when planning for future coastal development along the Atlantic coast.
Joint Ocean Commission Initiative Releases Ocean Policy Report Card 2012 (06/12)
At a conference during Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW), the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI) introduced the 2012 U.S. Ocean Policy Report Card. The goals of the bi-partisan collaboration are to accelerate the pace of change and gage progress in implementing the National Ocean Policy established in 2010 by President Obama. Although JOCI commended current efforts to advance the National Ocean Policy (NOP), overall implementation of a policy that will comprehensively manage the nation’s ocean resources has fallen short of expectations.
Co-Chairs of the JOCI Leadership Council Bill Ruckelshaus, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, and Norman Mineta, former Secretary of Transportation, presented the grades based upon careful monitoring of ocean policy developments, analyses of coordination efforts among federal, state, and local governments, and communications with the congressional and administrative leaders responsible for implementing the NOP.
The nation was graded in five areas critical to ensuring the protection, maintenance, and restoration of ocean and coastal environments. The first category, “National Leadership and Support,” was assigned a C due to reduced financial support from Congress, lack of interagency collaboration, and poor public education programming. The highest grade, an A-, was given to “Regional, State, and Local Leadership and Implementation” due to the innovative ocean initiatives demonstrated at this level despite budget limitations. “Research, Science, and Education” received a C because of the need to fully deploy the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), budget proposals to cut funding for climate change research, and the need to update the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology’s 2007 report, Ocean Research and Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy. The “Funding” category received a D- because of the systemic under-funding for ocean management, science, and education programs. The last area, “The Law of the Sea Convention” received a failing grade because the Senate has not yet ratified the treaty.
Bill Ruckelshaus, speaking for JOCI, suggested Congress put aside partisanship and recognize the tangible benefits of implementing the goals outlined by the National Ocean Policy. Effective implementation of a reformed ocean policy could enhance national security, support coastal economies and provide jobs, and improve the health of the nation’s ocean resources.
North Carolina Legislature Finds Compromise on Sea Level Rise (06/12)
The North Carolina legislature has settled on a compromise for determining rates of sea level rise during the next century that state officials must use in building plans. On June 21, The North Carolina State Senate passed an amended version of House Bill (HB) 819 to require state officials to only plan for an estimated sea level rise of 8 inches by 2100 when planning building projects. This figure was supported by a group of 20 counties, NC-20, that used historical data to calculate their estimation. This stipulation was rejected by the House of Representatives which crafted a compromise bill that later passed the senate.
The North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) produced a report in 2010 which recommended that a 39 inch, or one meter, rise be adopted as the amount of anticipated rise by 2100. Critics of the CRC report and NC-20 succeeded in amending HB 819 to require state officials to only plan for a sea level rise of 8 inches by 2100.
The NC House of Representatives received the bill and immediately voted it down 114-0. Representative Pat McElraft (R-Carteret County) led an effort to find a compromise and settled on a bill that would reject the NC-20 figure but would require more sea level rise studies by the CRC in the next four years. The state would not be allowed to prepare for 39 inch sea level rise by 2100 in the meantime. The State Senate voted 40-1 to agree to the compromise language on July 2 and the House is expected to follow before the bill is signed by the governor.
One Nation, Shaped by the Sea: Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2012 (06/12)
On June 6, 2012, Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) events continued with panel discussions on America’s ocean culture, ocean technologies, and the ocean’s connection to economic prosperity, as well as a keynote address on how the United States shapes our ocean ecosystems, and the release of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI) U.S. Ocean Policy Report Card. Featured speakers discussed the theme of human connections to the ocean and the significance of managing our nation’s ocean ecosystems to ensure an economically and environmentally sustainable future.
America’s Ocean Culture
Introduction: Representative Lois Capps (D-CA)
Moderator: Juliet Eilperin, National Environment Reporter, The Washington Post
Craig McClain, Assistant Director of Science, National Evolutionary Synthesis Center
Stephen Carr, Chief Technology Officer, Ventura County Office of Education
Jerry Enzler, Executive Director, National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
Judy Haner, Marine and Freshwater Program Director, The Nature Conservancy-Alabama
JOCI U.S. Ocean Policy Report Card Release
The Honorable William Ruckelshaus, Former EPA Administrator, Co-Chair, Joint Ocean Commission Initiative Leadership Council
The Honorable Norman Mineta, Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Co-Chair, Joint Ocean Commission Initiative Leadership Council
Did You Know? Ocean Technology Fuels the American Economy
James Bellingham, Co-Founder, Bluefin Robotics and Strategic Advisor, National Security Global Business Division-Battelle
Frank Herr, Head, Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department, Office of Naval Research
The Ocean Connection: Economic Prosperity in Times of Change
Introduction: Senator Mark Begich (D-AK)
Moderator: Michael Jones, President, the Maritime Alliance
Joe Roman, Fellow, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics
John Odin Jensen, Maritime Studies and Policy Faculty, Sea Education Association
Markian Melnyk, President, Atlantic Grid Development, LLC
Don Kent, President/CEO, Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute
How We Shape Our Ocean
Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation, Environment Department, University of York
Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) introduced the session titled “America’s Ocean Culture” by outlining her congressional involvement to promote appropriations for the BEACH Act (P.L. 106-284), opposition to offshore drilling, formation of the National Ocean Sanctuary Caucus, and support of the California Bay Watershed and Education Training (B-WET) Program. She then commented on the resiliency of the oceans even during times of technological and cultural change. Panelists then discussed the extensive presence of the ocean in American pop culture through fashion, vacation activity, and music. The rich history, thriving economy, and cultural relationship between gulf coast communities and the ocean was discussed. Jerry Enzler, President and CEO of the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, stressed that everyone in the nation, including river communities and cities, can impact oceanic ecosystems because all rivers and streams eventually flow back into the ocean. In conclusion, a panelist spoke specifically of the Southern California lifestyle and the importance of educating students by directly connecting them with the ocean and passing down California’s current emotional and cultural relationship with the ocean to younger generations.
Following the discussion on American ocean culture was the release of the JOCI U.S. Ocean Policy Report Card. Co-chairs Bill Ruckelshaus, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Norman Mineta, former Secretary of Transportation, explained the five key areas for ocean policy implementation, the grades assigned to the categories, and JOCI’s recommendations to improve management of the nation’s ocean resources. JOCI gave the category of national leadership and support a C for lack of financial commitment from the House. Regional, state, and local leadership and implementation received the highest grade with an A- due to the creative progress in protecting and managing ocean communities despite budget limitations. Research, science, and education received a C because of the need to fully deploy the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), budget proposals to cut funding for climate change research, and the need to update the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology’s 2007 report, Ocean Research and Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy. The funding category received a D- because of the systemic under-funding for ocean management, science, and education programs. The last area, the Law of the Sea Convention, was given a failing grade because the Senate has not acceded to the treaty.
Presentations on new, state-of-the-art ocean technologies followed the Ocean Policy Report Card release. CHOW invited James Bellingham, co-founder of Bluefin Robotics and Strategic Advisor for the National Security Global Business Division of Battelle, and Frank Herr, head of the Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), to discuss the influence of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), and other robotic systems on national security and a thriving economy. Herr stated that oceanic robotics can be used for basic and applied research, remote sensing, mine-hunting, geophysical modeling, environmental applications, communications, and military strategy purposes. Bellingham discussed more general uses of the ocean to serve economic purposes. He mentioned the use of wind farms and algal energy to meet growing energy demands, deep-sea mining of sulfide and other mineral deposits, submarine cables for international communications, and using aquaculture to address food scarcity. Both panelists emphasized the importance of marine robotics in performing tasks in environments difficult for humans to explore, and the necessity to educate younger generations about this growing enterprise.
Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) introduced the next panel discussion on the connection between the ocean and economic prosperity during times of change. Begich stated that the nation should regard the ocean from “a holistic point of view” and “preserve the ocean for this generation and generations to come.” He highlighted the importance of ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty and said the Senate will move forward to improve ocean policy by holding hearings on the JOCI report and marine debris. Michael Jones, President of the Maritime Alliance, moderated the diverse panel of maritime academics, aquaculture researchers, and ocean energy corporations. The panelists spoke of the economic and cultural value of whales throughout world history, the connection between the American Heartland and maritime communities during historic economic revolutions, the importance of expanding aquaculture enterprises to decrease reliance on aquatic food imports and boost economic growth, and the promotion of the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) to enhance development of offshore wind energy.
The day concluded with a keynote lecture by Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of York, about the impact of human activities on the sea. Roberts began the lecture by tracing human influence on ocean ecosystems over time, from the first evidence of shell jewelry at Pinnacle Point Cave in Africa over 140,000 years ago, to the introduction of flash freeze technology by Clarence Birdseye in the 1920s, to modern trends of overfishing and increasing pollution. Roberts noted that the two biggest threats to the future of our ocean systems are overpopulation and the affects of rising greenhouse gas emissions. The oceans are experiencing decreases in aquatic reserves, acidification and coral bleaching, destruction of habitats, pollution, and sea surface warming. Roberts stressed that all of these human-induced impacts could have a negative effect on the future health of the ocean, and America’s economic, environmental, and cultural well-being.
On June 7, 2012, CHOW events continued with panel discussions on the future of the coast, the interaction of land and ocean resources, and a leadership roundtable on the United States’ relationship with the ocean.
What does the Future Hold?
Marcia McNutt, Director, U.S. Geological Survey
Margaret Davidson, Acting Director, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Ocean Service/Ocean and Coastal Resource Management
Shaping the Nation’s Future: Land and Sea
Introduction: Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Moderator: Michael Marrella, Director of Waterfront and Open Space Planning, New York City Department of City Planning
William Aila, Chairman, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources
Lynn Richards, Policy Director, EPA Office of Sustainable Communities
Kent Satterlee, Manager, Regulatory Policy-Offshore U.S., Shell E&P Co.-Upstream Americas
Bruce Popham, President/CEO, Marathon Boat Yard Marine Center
Leadership Roundtable: Rethinking Our Ocean Nation
Moderator: Cornelia Dean, The New York Times
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Thad Allen, Senior Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton
Sylvia Earle, Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographic Society
Don Walsh, Honorary President, The Explorers Club
Marcia McNutt and Margaret Davidson started the “What Does the Future Hold?” panel with a joint presentation on what to expect and what can be done about coastal changes. McNutt listed some of the events expected to occur in the coastal zones. This list included: bluff erosion, island breaching, listed species impacts, threshold crossing, urban inundation, wetland loss, water quality reduction, ecosystems change, and infrastructure failure. She emphasized the point of needing “good information” in order to do “good predictions.” She said it is the government’s “legitimate role” to maintain long term national data sets in order to provide this information.
Davidson continued the discussion by saying coastal changes affect everyone, not just the coast and presented an image of ports and their spread across the country. She mentioned that 57 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) is contributed by coastal communities.
The two laid out strategies for communities dealing with coastal change. McNutt said the first step is assessment of coastal vulnerability to sea level rise. This gives a better idea of what strategies need to be implemented. The first strategy is “triage for money investments.” The second strategy is an organized retreat. Simulations were run for North Carolina to show the effects of sea level rise. McNutt described a project off the coast which promotes the growth of corals to attract oysters which can in turn reduce the wave impacts. The third strategy is to restore natural processes. This includes the decommissioning of dams in the northwest which have restricted water and sediment flow.
Davidson provided some potential barriers to a successful outcome with one problem being lack of working together. She said “risk should drive decision-making.” She listed several things that can be done to take action concerning coastal changes. This list included: “learning from mistakes, partnerships, multi-sector engagement, leadership/coordination, accessible technical support, and the ability to communicate early and often.” McNutt closed the presentation with a final statement of, “change is here.”
The floor was then opened to questions. A participant asked if National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had a plan for organized retreat. Davidson said all planning is locally controlled. McNutt said that the government “maps the risk.” The panelists were asked if there were other “emerging issues” beyond sea level rise. McNutt mentioned the need to bring awareness to secondary impacts of sea level rise. She mentioned the utility tunnels in the east that would be damaged from flooding. She discussed the effects of sea level rise on the recharging of aquifers on the east coast. Another participant asked how to go about making people understand the risks of sea level rise. McNutt said “humans have evolved to respond to the here and now.” She suggested zoning, laws, and insurance as well. The final question focused on the third strategy, the restoration of natural processes. McNutt said people are concerned about the release of sediments, but models have demonstrated that the benefits outweigh the risks.
Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) began the “Shaping the Nation’s Future: Land and Sea” panel with some introductory remarks about Louisiana’s recent events that have affected their coastal communities including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Landrieu said that Louisiana knew of its coastal issues before these events amplified them. She emphasized the need of balance and maintaining good environmental standards. She discussed the RESTORE Act (S.1400), included in the fiscal year (FY) 2013 transportation appropriations bill (S. 2322), which would designate 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines collected from BP for the oil spill to be the Gulf States affected by the spill.
The panel began their presentations with William Aila whose presentation was entitled “Alternative Approaches to Resource Managements: Blending Western Science and Traditional Knowledge.” He focused mainly on the Hawaiian Islands and described how corals off the coast are covered in sediment and invasive algae. Currently, sea urchins are being raised and used to remove the damaging algae. Previously, divers used a “super sucker” to remove the algae.
Lynn Richards’s presentation was entitled “Planning on the Coast: Challenges and Opportunities.” She framed her discussion by saying that more than 20,000 acres of coastal habit is lost each year. The coast is a main draw for tourism and “working waterfronts are getting pushed aside.” Richards mentioned the “Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities” report written by NOAA, the EPA, and others. She emphasized regional cooperation in order to have successful long term ecosystem management and economic development. Richards completed her talk by acknowledging the EPA, the Department of Transportation, and Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities. This partnership provides grants to help community development and protect the environment.
Kent Satterlee gave his presentation called “Planning Ahead for American Energy Independence.” He showed graphs of energy generation, oil production and gas production. He discussed how new leases in outer continental shelf areas must have “enough oil and gas to justify the development.” Satterlee said 30 percent of the U.S. oil supply lies in the Gulf of Mexico and most is accumulated in deepwater fields. He closed by saying the U.S. has to “work towards independence” and the U.S. has an abundant supply of energy.
Bruce Popham finished the panel’s presentations by focusing on the importance of preservation in the Florida Keys. He discussed the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) Advisory Council whose three objectives are: water quality improvement, ecological restoration, and enhanced education outreach. He noted current and future challenges some of which pertain to derelict vessels, bleaching, and coral disease.
The floor was then opened up for questions to the panel. The panel was asked about the need for coastal communities to plan and how to communicate its importance. Popham said that portraying information to communities is “a challenge.” When asked about how to shift from planning to enforcing, Popham said to bring communities in so they understand what is being done. It is necessary to build trust, he said, so they know they are being heard. When asked what investments are needed, Richards emphasized that local governments need to make sure money spent is used to help create multiple benefits.
A participant made the point that more gets done when agencies work together yet industry is constantly complaining about how slow the government is. Richards answered that collaboration is a time saver. Popham said “stakeholders have to demand action and they have to demand results.” Aila stated the necessity of clear expectations and communication.
In the leadership roundtable discussion, moderator Cornelia Dean asked the panel for signs of optimism in regards to ocean policy. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said awareness is climbing and that people are now seeing a “complex portrait” of the ocean. Sylvia Earle said that the discussion of the Law of the Sea Treaty (Treaty Doc. 103-39, LOS) in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is “definitely one.” Further questions on LOS were asked, including what was preventing it from moving forward. Whitehouse thought the LOS would be brought up after elections and predicted that it would pass the Senate. Dean then asked where the National Ocean Policy stands and when will it come in effect. Whitehouse said the President has signed off, but the funding and legislation is the problem. He mentioned how the marine spatial planning is a benefit to businesses. NOAA’s Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning Program reduces conflict regarding the coast, ocean, and Great Lakes development.
The floor was then opened to question from the audience. The topic quickly turned to education and what is being done in policy to assure a next generation of leaders. Earle suggested “fundamental” art and music with science, as well as humor. Walsh suggested taking kids on sailing vessels and emphasized the point that “everyone [is] born with [an] exploration gene.” Dean noted it may be the way science is taught.
Dean asked Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on her opinion on the LOS. Murkowski thought it would pass this year, but not before lame-duck. She said there are some “stumbling blocks” in committee. Earle then asked Murkowski about S. 1400. Murkowski said that a few weeks ago, things were looking good with the bill, but not so much now. She did note that there is a commitment to “giving money to oceans.”
The final question was if there would be any research off the coast of Alaska to assess the amount of hydrocarbons. Murkowski said there is research being conducted by Royal Dutch Shell and other potential oil companies. She mentioned how in order for permits to be issued, exploration of the area must be conducted.
For a list of all the talks and events of CHOW, please visit their web site.
National Ocean Council Unveils Ocean Data Portal (05/12)
The National Ocean Council released a prototype of the Ocean Data Portal in May 2012. The web site is part of the implementation of the National Ocean Policy. The site focuses on ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes planning efforts. It is described as being the “one-stop” source for all types of information pertaining to these areas. Data includes spatial and non-spatial from various Federal resources. The site contains data and maps from the nine U.S. regional planning areas in order to foster collaborative coastal and marine spatial planning. A forum has been set up on the site to gather input and suggestions from users.
Chairman Kerry Holds Hearing on Law of the Sea Treaty; Plans Several More (05/12)
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on May 23 to discuss ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey were present to testify in support of ratification of the treaty.
As part of his opening statement at the hearing, Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) pledged to hold several hearings on the treaty before the end of the 112th Congress but announced he does not intend to bring the treaty to a vote before the November elections.
A summary of the hearing written by the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) can be found on AGI’s web site.
Bills Introduced to Coordinate Research and Address Water-Energy Nexus (05/12)
Ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has introduced two bills to coordinate federal research efforts into water and the energy-water nexus. The Coordinating Water Research for a Clean Water Future Act of 2012 (H.R. 5826) and the Energy and Water Research Integration Act of 2012 (H.R. 5827) have been co-sponsored by Representatives Donna Edwards (D-MD), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Paul Tonko (D-NY), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).
The Coordinating Water Research for a Clean Water Future Act of 2012 (H.R. 5826) would implement a National Water Research and Development Initiative at the Office of Science and Technology Policy to promote coordination among the more than 20 federal agencies that conduct water quality, quantity, and management research projects. The Energy and Water Research Integration Act of 2012 (H.R. 5827) would address the “energy-water nexus” defined as the use of water supplies for electrical energy generation. The bill would help guarantee efficient, reliable, and sustainable energy delivery, while decreasing freshwater use, improving water quality and increasing water efficiency. H.R.5827 encourages the Secretary of Energy to consider water intensity when conducting energy research.
Japan Tsunami Debris Appears on U.S. Shores (05/12)
Debris from the tsunami which struck Japan in March, 2011 after the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku earthquake has begun to wash up on West Coast beaches. The debris is considered the first wave of an estimated five tons of debris that was pulled out to sea by the tsunami. The Japanese government estimates 3.5 tons of the heavier debris like cars and pieces of smashed buildings have sunk to the ocean floor.
U.S. state and federal officials are concerned about the environmental damagethat the more hazardous waste could cause. Additionally, buoyant debris has been deemed a safety hazard for passing ships by the Coast Guard. The possibility of radioactive debris from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor has raised health concerns. However, the debris that has been analyzed has shown no evidence of harmful levels of radioactivity.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Program (MDP) has been tracking the debris as it crosses the Pacific. The MDP maps, identifies, removes, and prevents marine debris to protect the U.S. marine environment and ensure navigation safety. Report debris sightings or request coastal monitoring guides at DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.
EPA Will Delay Pavillion, Wyoming Study for USGS Testing (03/12)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will delay its report into potential water well contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing in Pavillion, Wyoming until the United States Geological Survey can conduct additional tests. Adraft report issued by the EPA on December 8 indicated that EPA had found constituents in groundwater above the production zone of the Pavillion natural gas wells that are similar to some constituents used in well operations, including the process of hydraulic fracturing.
The EPA will delay convening the peer review panel on the draft Pavillion report until the USGS data are publicly available. EPA will extend the public comment period, which had previously been scheduled to end on March 3, 2012, through October 2012. All EPA information regarding the groundwater investigation at Pavillion, Wyoming can be found on the EPA web site.
BOEM Releases Its First Issue of ‘Ocean Science’ Journal (03/12)
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released its first edition of Ocean Science since the reorganization of the former Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. The journal highlights recent science and technological information of interest to offshore energy and ocean science. BOEM funds an average of $30 million per year for research in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Arctic. This edition’s theme is renewable energy.
Boxer, Inhofe, and Cardin Introduce Water Research Bill (02/12)
On February 14, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) introduced the Water Resources Research Amendments Act of 2012 (S. 2104) to reauthorize funding for applied water supply research.
The bipartisan backed bill reauthorizes an amended version of the Water Resources Research Act of 1983 (P.L. 98-242). From 2006-2011 the program annually received $12 million for institutions and $6 million for competitive grants. The Water Resources Research Amendments Act of 2012 calls for five years of annual funding at $7.5 million for institutions and $1.5 million for competitive grants. Cardin said that past grants led to tools for the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and the development of cost effective water resources strategies in West Virginia among other benefits. Cardin called the bill “an intelligent and necessary investment in the future of our water resources.” It has been referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works where Boxer and Inhofe sit as chair and ranking member respectively.
Oil Spill Response System for Arctic (02/12)
On February 7, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced they will be enhancing the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA) for the Arctic by the summer of 2012.
ERMA was first designed in 2007 and saw full implementation in 2010 during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. ERMA brings together static and real time data through an interactive map that is continuously updated with oceanographic observations and weather data from NOAA as well as critical information from BSEE and a number of other agencies. Monica Medina NOAA Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere recently said, “Reconfiguring this application to meet the needs of responders in the remote marine Arctic environment could prove to be the most critical tool in effectively preparing for, responding to, and mitigating situations where limited assets, personnel and facilities exist.” NOAA and BSEE will educate the state of Alaska, local communities, academia, and industry on ERMA and how it will protect their communities. NOAA and BSEE have stated their goal is to get ERMA up and running before any new oil and gas exploration begins in the Arctic.
State Department Announces Law of the Sea Web Site (12/11)
In a push to increase their communication efforts in support of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the State Department has launched a web site with information on the treaty and a list of supporters. The site is headlined with quotations by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in support of the treaty. The site provides links to factsheets and to the government’s Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) Project.
The ECS Project will establish the full extent of the continental shelf of the United States. The project is co-chaired by the State Department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of the Interior. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other geoscientific expertise will be engaged to map the ECS. Under the Law of the Sea Treaty, a nation can secure its sovereign rights over natural resources within a 200- nautical mile exclusive economic zone from its coastal baseline and up to 350 nautical miles from the baseline or 100 nautical miles from a 2500 meter depth in cases where the continental shelf extends further than 200 nautical miles.
Law Allows Foreign LNG Tankers In U.S. Waters (11/11)
President Obama recently signed into law the America’s Cup Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-61), which contains a provision to allow three foreign-flagged tankers to carry liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast. Ethane derived from the Marcellus Shale will be processed at Sunoco’s Marcus Hook refinery in Pennsylvania to LNG for tanker transport. The bill originally provided a waiver for about 60 foreign yachts that are participating in the 2013 America’s Cup, starting in early December in San Diego, to enter U.S. waters. The waiver is necessary because the Jones Act (P.L. 66-261) prohibits foreign vessels from entering U.S. waters. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) with support from Representative Pat Meehan (R-PA) put a hold on the legislation until the LNG foreign tankers were also granted a waiver.
The two members argued that transporting LNG from Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast would boost jobs in the state. They succeeded in convincing their colleagues to add the provision to the bill, in order to allow the yacht race to continue as planned.
House Proposes Bipartisan Legislation for Clean Water Infrastructure (10/11)
On October 11, 2011 members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced bipartisan legislation to invest $13.8 billion through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) over the next five years to create American jobs and improve water quality. The bill, the “Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2011,” (H.R. 3145) was introduced by Representatives Tim Bishop (D-NY), ranking member of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Tom Petri (R-WI), and Steven LaTourette (R-OH).
The bill proposes two complimentary initiatives for the long-term financing of wastewater infrastructure through the establishment of direct low-interest loans and loan guarantee programs and a Clean Water Infrastructure Trust Fund. The bill is supported by the National League of Cities and the Water Infrastructure Network, a coalition of 45 organizations that includes the American Society of Civil Engineers, Natural Resources Defense Council and National Association of Clean Water Agencies.
Senator Murkowski Responds to Law of the Sea Op-Ed (10/11)
On October 24, 2011 Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) published a rebuttal to a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed by John Bolton and Dan Blumenthal that called for killing the Law of the Sea Treaty. Murkowski supports the ratification of the Law of the Sea by the Senate and points out that a large area in the Arctic Ocean that has energy, mineral and fisheries resources would be off limits to the U.S. if we are not a party to the treaty. The Wall Street Journal continues to be a pivotal place for debates about the Law of the Sea, mostly in the letters and op-ed sections.
FWS Release Report on Wetland Losses from 2004-2009 (10/11)
In its most recent report on the state of the nation’s wetlands, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that wetland losses have slowed in the contiguous United States from 2004-2009 but still amounted to a net loss of 62,300 acres. The report, Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004-2009, found that the rate of gains increased by 17% from the previous 1998-2004 study period, but losses increased by 140%. Found in all of the lower 48 states, wetlands serve as storm buffers, reduce water pollution through natural filtering processes and provide habitat to many flora and fauna. The largest losses occurred in the forested wetlands of the Southeast mainly due to land use change, a heavy hurricane season in 2005, and climate change impacts.
Capps Introduces Bill to Enhance Water Supply Sustainability (08/11)
Representative Lois Capps (D-CA) introduced the Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act of 2011 (H.R. 2738) in August. The legislation would award grants totaling $50 million per year beginning in 2012 through fiscal year 2016. The grants would be given to owners or operators of water systems to improve water resiliency and sustainability in the face of climate change. Water systems with greater vulnerability to climate-related risks as well as a greater number of users would be addressed first. The funds could be used to cover up to 50 percent of the costs for a variety of projects that include improving water usage efficiency, reducing flooding damage, and relocating infrastructure susceptible to changing climate conditions.
BOEMRE Report on Oil Spill Monitoring and Climate Change (08/11)
On August 29, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) released a report, “Evaluation of the Use of Hindcast Model Data for Oil Spill Risk Analysis (OSRA) in a Period of Rapidly Changing Conditions,” evaluating how climate change will affect the environmental conditions used in modeling oil spill trajectories and analyses in the Arctic. The report recommends that BOEMRE improve their data coverage, improve their modeling and forcing tools, and to consider Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios in their OSRA’s. The report also urges BOEMRE to consider a case study of an oil spill response with no sea ice in the Arctic.
Oil and gas companies are setting their sights on the Arctic. ExxonMobil just signed an agreement with Russia’s Rosneft oil company to partner in petroleum drilling leases in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) urged his colleagues on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “supercommittee”) to raise revenues by expanding oil and gas production in an op-ed in early September 2011.
Clean Estuaries Act Passes Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (07/11)
On July13, 2011, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-RI) bill, Clean Estuaries Act of 2011 (S. 1313) was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with a bipartisan vote. This legislation amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and re-authorizes the National Estuary Program (NEP). NEP, administered by the Environment Protection Agency, protects and restores estuarine habitats from pollution and overdevelopment. The bill revises voluntary estuary restoration efforts and expands conservation and management plan requirements prepared by each estuary program. In addition, the legislation requires regular evaluations to determine if improving water quality and habitat goals are met.
Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research Passes House Science Committee (07/11)
The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment met on July 14, 2011 and unanimously approved the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2011 (H.R. 2484). The legislation, sponsored by Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD), ensures funding for research on harmful algal blooms (HABs) and hypoxia or dead zones. HABs damage the surrounding marine or freshwater environment due to an overabundance of algae that produce toxins. Oxygen depleted zones or hypoxia zones, are caused from the overproduction of algal cells, which blocks sunlight and consume the available oxygen. The causes and effects vary between ecosystems and further research will increase understanding and improve mitigation techniques. The measure reduces the funding levels for research below previous authorization levels; using instead the amount of funding used in fiscal year 2010.
BOEMRE Increases Maximum Civil Penalty Amounts (07/11)
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) announced on June 29, 2011 that the maximum penalty for violation of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act would increase from $35,000 to $40,000 per day and the penalty for violation of the Oil Pollution Act would increase from $25,000 to $30,000 per day. These increases adjust for inflation, but the Obama Administration and BOEMRE are urging Congress to pass legislation allowing the maximum penalty rates to be higher. BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich has called the fines “a trivial nuisance rather than an effective deterrent” in regulating offshore oil and gas activities.
ExxonMobil Pipeline Bursts under Yellowstone River (07/11)
At about 11 pm on Friday, July 1, ExxonMobil Pipeline Company’s 20 year-old Silvertip pipeline ruptured under the Yellowstone River releasing about 1,000 barrels of oil before the pipeline was shut down. The rupture occurred 20 miles upstream of Billings, Montana. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is leading the cleanup efforts in cooperation with the Department of the Interior, the Coast Guard and ExxonMobil. While crews are deploying booms and mats along river banks to absorb and dispose of the oil that has pooled in slow waters, EPA is collecting water and air samples to analyze for volatile organic compounds. The large snowpack, increased snowmelt and subsequent high flow rate on the river may have contributed to the rupture and is definitely complicating the cleanup efforts by limiting access and crippling equipment. As of July 23, EPA has announced that there is oil visible for about 72 miles downstream of the rupture. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has directed ExxonMobil to make safety improvements on the pipeline before operation can resume. In particular, they want the pipeline re-buried under the riverbed to protect it from damage. PHMSA is still determining the cause of the break.
At a July hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Cynthia Quarterman, PHMSA administrator, testified that the pipeline has a four foot depth-of-cover requirement. In June 2011 PHMSA requested a confirmation from ExxonMobil of the depth-of-cover for the pipeline because the flow rate and volume picked up in May as the large snowpack melted and rivers flooded. PHSMA warned all pipeline operators in flood prone areas to check their systems. ExxonMobil reported that there was 12 feet of cover at the south bank but did not report a depth-of-cover in the riverbed. ExxonMobil last reported a depth-of-cover in the riverbed in a December 2010 survey which found the pipeline to be at a depth of five feet, one foot below the four foot minimum.
ExxonMobil Pipeline Company President Gary Pruessing has promised to do “whatever is necessary” to clean up the spill, but this has not stopped Montana’s governor, senators and other lawmakers from calling for more oversight and information. After initially being a part of the joint command team, Montana state officials backed out one week after the spill. Governor Brian Schweitzer explained the state was not satisfied with ExxonMobil’s transparency. Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Jon Tester (D-MT) have told ExxonMobil Corporation Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson that ExxonMobil should pay for the full cost of the cleanup. The senators have requested information on inspections and communications with federal regulators regarding the pipeline.
Immediately after the spill, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) distributed a discussion draft of the Pipeline Infrastructure and Community Protection Act of 2011. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power passed a version of this draft on July 27. This bill would set penalties for major violators, create minimum engineering standards to reduce pipeline damage, require automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves, expand inspection and regulation coverage to non-petroleum fuels, and require PHMSA’s inspection information to be available to the public. During the subcommittee mark-up, Representative John Dingell (D-MI) and Chairman Fred Upton introduced an amendment that included two provisions designed to respond to recent high-profile pipeline breaks. The first would require gas line operators to report their maximum allowable operating pressure, a key issue in the 2010 rupture that killed eight residents of San Bruno, California; the second, would set up a PHMSA review of existing rules for the burial of pipelines under waterways. This issue has been reviewed recently as questions about the cause of the Yellowstone River spill remain unanswered. Representative Jackie Speier’s (D-CA) bill, the Pipeline Safety and Community Empowerment Act of 2011 (H.R. 22), contains a series of provisions that require pipeline owners and operators to make information about the operation of the pipeline available to the public. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s bill, the Strengthening Pipeline Safety and Enforcement Act of 2011 (S. 234), is similar to the House Energy and Commerce bill but it would increase PHMSA’s inspection force by 100 employees.
The incident has reopened congressional debate about the Keystone XL pipeline proposal. Keystone XL would extend from the Canadian tar sands in Alberta to the Texas coast if the State Department approves the pipeline extension. Representative Steven Cohen (D-TN) has stated that the Montana spill is a small example of what could happen with Keystone XL. He noted that there have already been 12 spills in one year along the current Keystone pipeline in Canada. Policymakers are looking for assurances that pipelines have proper oversight and are not prone to breaks or leaks.
White House Water Management Draft Plan Released (06/11)
The Climate Change Adaptation Task Force of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released a draft water management plan on June 2, 2011. The plan is titled National Action Plan: Priorities for Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate. It outlines the impacts that climate change will have on the nation’s freshwater resources and provides recommendations to the U.S. government for addressing the issue. It calls for increased climate and water data and vulnerability assessments as well as more efficient water use. The plan recommends strengthening integrated water resource management planning and educating water resource managers. The public may submit comments until July 17, 2011.
National Ocean Council Releases Preliminary Strategy (06/11)
The National Ocean Council has released preliminary documents addressing the nine priorities set forth in the National Ocean Policy. These priorities include ecosystem based management; coastal and marine spatial planning; education; resiliency and adaptation to climate change and ocean acidification; regional ecosystem protection and restoration; water quality and sustainability; changing conditions in the Arctic; mapping; and infrastructure. The documents are initial steps in the development of the nine priorities and were drafted with public input. More revisions and updates will be conducted before the final release. The public is once again encouraged to submit comments.
Bill to Reduce EPA Water Control Passed in House Committee (06/11)
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011(H.R. 2018) sponsored by Representative John Mica (R-FL). The bill takes away the power of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 - 1376) and gives it to individual states. The goal of H.R. 2018 is to allow state control over waterways to reduce delays and promote economic growth. Critics argue water regulations should be managed at the federal level, especially as waterways cut across state boundaries; a downstream state might be negatively impacted if water pollution is not regulated at the federal level.
NASA Deploys Satellite to Map Ocean Salinity (06/11)
On Friday, June 10 the United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched the Aquarius/SAC-D satellite on a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Aquarius, built by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is one of nine instruments on the SAC-D (“Satelite de Aplicaciones Cientificas D”) satellite, which is the fourth satellite mission in a series by the Argentine Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE). Aquarius will measure ocean salinity and should greatly improve our understanding of the oceans and global climate change. Aquarius can detect a change as small as two hundred parts per million, about one-eighth of a teaspoon of salt in a gallon of water.
The other instruments on SAC-D will collect data on wind speed, precipitation, sea ice conditions, water vapor, surface temperatures, atmospheric conditions, aurorae, fires, and other observations. Many of these measurements will complement the global ocean salinity measurements and add to knowledge of Earth system processes. Brazil, Canada, France and Italy provided some of the instruments and other resources for the mission and will be involved in processing the data with NASA and Argentina.
The Delta II launch of SAC-D was the 149th flight of this rocket and only two more launches are planned. Rumors suggest there are components to build five more Delta II rockets and that NASA is talking to the United Launch Alliance about using Delta rockets for future launches. The newer Taurus-XL rocket has failed on two consecutive launches of NASA satellites, causing not only the loss of two major satellites, but also grave concerns about the capabilities of the rocket. NASA and the space community cannot afford any more losses.
Urban Waters Federal Partnership to Revitalize Urban Waterways (06/11)
On June 24, the White House announced a new Urban Waters Federal Partnership led by the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, and Department of Agriculture and coordinated by the White House Domestic Policy Council. The partnership of eleven federal agencies will work with local communities to protect and preserve water quality and the surrounding habitat, increase public access to water, and educate communities on water quality. The initial efforts are being focused on seven locations where restoration projects have already been started by local governments. These locations are the Patapsco Watershed (Maryland), the Anacostia Watershed (Washington DC/Maryland), the Bronx and Harlem River Watersheds (New York), the South Platte River in Denver (Colorado), the Los Angeles River Watershed (California), the Lake Pontchartrain Area (New Orleans, LA), and the Northwest Indiana Area.
EPA Comment Period for Defining U.S. Waterways Extended (06/11)
In response to requests from state and local officials, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have extended the public comment period for the draft guidance of Identifying Waters Protected by the Clean Water Act until July 31, 2011. The guidance will define what waterways and wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act and improve the clarity and predictability of guidelines. The current draft reaffirms the protection of critical waters such as small streams that feed into larger bodies of water and it outlines permit requirements for pollution discharge.
NSF’s Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Releases Science Plan for 2013-2023 (06/11)
The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Integrated Ocean Drilling Program released its Science Plan for 2013-2023 for the International Ocean Discovery Program. This plan is to direct multidisciplinary and international cooperation in scientific ocean drilling. This program is designed to focus on climate and ocean change, subseafloor biosphere exploration, lithosphere and deep Earth processes, and earthquake, tsunami, and landslide processes.
Hydraulic Fracturing Gets Banned, Halted in the East (06/11)
Amid concerns about the potential environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing, a state and a municipality have banned the controversial drilling method. Governor Martin O’Malley (D) of Maryland called for a halt on hydraulic fracturing in the state until a comprehensive study of economic, environmental, and safety impacts is completed. This would lead to a three-year ban on the process, a move strongly criticized by industry and state legislators from the counties in which the drilling would take place. Taking O’Malley’s halt a step further, the city council in Morgantown, WV banned hydraulic fracturing within one mile of the city limits on June 22. The council explained that the move was in response to the state’s failure to pass effective regulations and that they hoped their ban would catalyze state action. Around 150 representatives of the natural gas industry protested outside the city courthouse.
Raised Concerns For Global Ocean Health (06/11)
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) published a workshop report to the United Nations member states on June 21, 2011. The report concluded that the world’s oceans are in a much graver state than previously believed. Specifically, the authors write that oceans are at a high risk for more marine species extinctions than seen in human history. The IUCN and IPSO hope the report will encourage increased protection of the oceans on behalf of the United Nations as well as local and regional states. A full Global State of the Ocean Report is intended for release in 2012.
Bipartisan Oceans Bill Introduced in the Senate (05/11)
A bipartisan group of senators have introduced the National Endowment for the Oceans Act (H.R. 973) to establish an endowment to fund research and conservation efforts on the country’s oceans, coastal areas, and Great Lakes. The endowment would receive funds from revenue generated by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, offshore energy development, and a portion of the fines collected for violations of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1321) and other environmental laws. About 50 percent of the total endowment would be used for the Secretary of the Treasury to make grants to coastal states. Half of these funds would be reserved for states with coastal management programs while the other half of these funds would be allocated based on shore length and on coastal population density. Around 20 percent of the endowment’s funds would be allocated to regional planning bodies to develop and implement regional strategic plans to monitor, assess, and describe the region’s ocean, coastal, or Great Lake ecosystems. Finally, the last 30 percent of the endowment’s funds would be made available under a competitive National Grant Program for Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes. The types of entities eligible for grants in this program include coastal states, non-coastal states, tribes, regional agencies, fishery or wildlife management organizations, nonprofits, and academic institutions. If the sum of the amount to be transferred and deposited to the endowment for any given year is less than $100 million, then this legislation would authorize the amount necessary to reach a minimum of $100 million. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Bill to Expand Hydrographic Services in the Arctic Introduced (05/11)
Representative Don Young (R-AK) has introduced a bill (H.R. 295) to amend the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act of 1998 (32 USC 892). The amendment would authorize $5 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to acquire new hydrographic data, perform hydrographic services, review coastal change to ensure safe navigation, and improve management of coastal change in the Arctic. An additional $2 million would be authorized to improve hydrographic data necessary to delineate the United States extended continental shelf. In May, Captain John Lowell, Director of the Office of Coastal Survey at NOAA, testified before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs in support of Young’s bill. Captain Lowell told the subcommittee, “NOAA’s hydrographic services are an essential component of an open Arctic where conservation, management, and use are based on sound science to support U.S. economic growth and resilient and viable ecosystems and communities.”
USGS, USACE, NOAA Sign Memorandum of Understanding on Water (05/11)
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to coordinate services and information for water resources. The Collaborative Science, Services and Tools to Support Integrated and Adaptive Water Resources Management MOU will create high-resolution forecasts for water supply and provide a water resources database public portal to support managers and decision-makers. The three federal agencies have been working together closely for many years and have provided in the MOU an option for other federal agencies or partners to join in the partnership. “This initiative will leverage each agency's expertise to improve water resource forecasts and facilitate informed decisions, all utilizing the best available science," said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. "This marks a step forward in providing tailored, easily accessible and usable water information services to the people who need it."
Senate Energy Committee Considers Hydropower Bills (04/11)
Two hydropower measures and a new bill that covers energy and water portions (subtitle D) of the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (S. 1462) were marked up in April. Though Murkowski was initially optimistic all three bills would pass on a bipartisan vote, only the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011 (S. 629) was approved by the committee in the markup. The Marine and Hydrokinetic Renewable Energy Promotion Act of 2011 (S. 630) and the Energy and Water Integration Act of 2011 will receive further consideration later. The Energy and Water Integration Act would initiate studies on the lifecycle of water used in energy production, the energy use in the procurement, delivery, and treatment of water, and would fund desalination research.
Limited Legislation on Anniversary of BP Oil Spill (04/11)
The one-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill passed on April 20 with many reviews of what happened, what has been learned and what has been done to prevent a similar catastrophe in the future.
The Obama Administration established investigation panels and a presidential commission to investigate the oil spill. The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling recommended that Congress provide annual mandatory funding for oil spill response research and noted the funding for additional research and safety enforcement could come from portions of fees that companies pay for federal leases and from new regulatory fees. The joint DHS-DOI investigation of what happened and who is responsible has not been completed nor has the Department of Justice investigation of the responsible parties. The NOAA-led Natural Resource Damage Assessment as required by the Oil Spill Pollution Act of 1990 is underway.
The Department of the Interior completely re-organized the Minerals Management Service (MMS) that was responsible for oversight of offshore oil and gas production. The MMS is now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and responsibilities for leasing, oversight and safety have been further subdivided into separate divisions within BOEMRE.
Congress held many hearings and introduced many bills related to the oil spill, however, no major bills passed in the 111th Congress. Some measures have been re-introduced at the beginning of the 112th Congress, including Implementing the Recommendations of the BP Oil Spill Commission Act of 2011 (H.R. 501), which increases the liability, adds fees to industry and includes many of the presidential commission’s recommendations. This House bill sponsored by Edward Markey (D-MA) is unlikely to move forward with the new House majority that generally favors offshore oil and gas production with limited regulation. As summarized above, the Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Doc Hastings (R-WA), sponsored three bills to spur offshore oil and gas production while Markey is considering another draft measure to remove royalty waivers for deepwater drilling.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to bring forward measures similar to previous efforts with the addition of some of the recommendations from the presidential commission, however, no legislation has been introduced yet.
While formal government investigations have not been completed, the U.S. government has listed BP as a responsible party. BP agreed to set-up a $20 billion oil spill response fund (BP placed about $5 billion into the fund in 2010 and promises $1.25 billion per quarter thereafter) to be used to compensate victims of the oil spill. The fund’s operations and disbursements, led by Kenneth Feinberg, have been criticized by legislators, including Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and many others.
On May 24, 2010, BP agreed to set-up a $500 million research fund ($50 million a year for 10 years) to help researchers study the impact of the oil spill on the environment and to improve understanding for response to future spills. About $50 million was distributed in June 2010 and then the fund became mired in controversy. The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GRI), led by marine scientist Michael Carron was organized to handle the remaining $450 million and on April 25, 2011 the Research Board Chair Rita Colwell announced the first research funding proposal opportunity for about $37.5 million for three to four year research grants. Colwell an environmental microbiologist at the University of Maryland and former director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) says the proposals will be considered using the same peer-review process as the NSF.
Coast Guard Releases BP Oil Spill Response Recommendations (04/11)
The Coast Guard’s internal Incident Specific Preparedness Review (ISPR) of the agency’s response to the BP Oil Spill is now available to the public. The report found the agency was unprepared for the devastating spill and issued recommendations to improve response plans, mitigation strategies, and coordination among government entities. Compiled by representatives from the Coast Guard, other federal and state agencies, and advisors from industry and non-governmental organizations, the report shows that funding for the Coast Guard’s marine environmental programs has declined over the past decade due to increased competition with new homeland security responsibilities since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The ISPR warns that “if the public and Congress expect significant improvements in this Nation’s ability to respond to catastrophic oil spills, additional funding will be needed for improvements.” In addition to failed communication protocols, the report criticized the Coast Guard’s lack of attention to environmentally sensitive areas saying, “had they been given appropriate attention … adverse impacts could have been much less.”
Draft Proposal for Stream Protection Draws Disagreement (04/11)
In April 2010, the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) published in the Federal Register a Notice of Intent to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement for the Stream Protection Rule, which will replace the Bush Administration’s Stream Buffer Zone Rule. Provisions under consideration in the new rule include requiring coal mining companies that elect to mine through or bury streams to gather more specific baseline data on a proposed mine site's hydrology, geology, and aquatic biology; finalizing a definition of the term "material damage to the hydrologic balance" of watersheds outside the permit area; and developing more effective requirements for mine operators that disagree with the requirement that mined areas be reclaimed to their approximate original contour. In January of 2011, an Associated Press report published in the Charleston Gazette disclosed government documents that estimated job losses in the thousands as a result of the proposed changes. In April, a group of bipartisan senators from coal states asked for a congressional investigation of possible job losses as a result of the new rule. Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Rand Paul (R-KY) sent a letter to Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee requesting a hearing. As of May 6 2011, no hearing has been scheduled.
House Republicans had the chance to question OSM Director Joe Pizarchik on April 7 at a budget hearing. Representative Bill Johnson (R-OH), who has sponsored a House amendment to stop OSM’s efforts to draft the proposal (H. AMDT. 131), and Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) were particularly vocal about their disagreement with the proposals. Even the lone environmentalist witness disagreed with OSM’s draft proposals and suggested the Obama Administration instead should reinstate the rule promulgated during the Reagan Administration.
EPA Releases Clean Water Act Guidance Draft (04/11)
After some companies threatened to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding attempts to strengthen the regulation of waterways and streams under the Clean Water Act (CWA), the EPA released a scaled back draft on water regulations in April. The draft starts by saying that the policy “is not a rule, hence it is not binding and lacks the force of law.” The CWA applies to “navigable waters of the United States” and ever since its enactment, there have been questions about what bodies of water are covered by the act. Defining the scope of the CWA has been the subject of multiple Supreme Court rulings and many failed legislative attempts. In this latest interpretation, EPA is basing its guidelines on a “significant nexus” model proposed by Justice Anthony Kennedy in Rapanos vs. The United States.
That ruling did not establish a case law and several justices wrote their own opinions. Justice Kennedy wrote that protected waters must share a “significant nexus” with the “navigable” waterways protected under the CWA. This nexus would exist when a wetland or waterbody, either by itself or in combination with other similar sites, significantly affects the physical, biological, and chemical integrity of the downstream navigable waterway.
Bureau of Reclamation Predicts Dry Future for Western River Basins (04/11)
A report released in April by the Bureau of Reclamation found that climate change will likely reduce western major river basin flows by as much as 20% by the end of the century. Largely based on existing research from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers, this report uses new global circulation models (GCM's) to predict future snowpack, runoff, and precipitation in seven major western river basins. The northwestern Columbia River Basin, Upper Colorado River Basin, Missouri River Basin, and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basin will generally see increases in precipitation though the more southern Klamath River Basin, Upper Rio Grande Basin, Tuckee River Basin, and the Lower Colorado River Basin will see decreases in precipitation, runoff, and snowpack. While western water management and infrastructure is designed for hydrological variability, the report warns warmer conditions could present dynamics these systems might not be prepared for. The report, titled Climate Change and Water, is required in section 9503(c) of the SECURE Water Act of 2009 which was part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act (PL 111-11).
EPA Draft Plan on Hydraulic Fracturing (02/11)
Details of EPA’s study of hydraulic fracturing have been made available with the release of their draft plan in February. The scope of the research, a “life-cycle” approach, has come under fire for being too large by industry officials and members of Congress. The study is expected to include both retrospective case studies, prospective case studies, and a thorough investigation of all substances used in hydraulic fracturing. The fundamental questions of the study ask how drinking water will be affected by large water withdrawals from the ground and surface water, by releases of hydraulic fracturing fluids, by the injection and fracturing process, by releases of flow back and produced water, and by inadequate treatment of the wastewater. Due to the timeline of the prospective case studies, the complete report will not be released until 2014 but EPA will compile an interim report to be released sometime in 2012.
Policymakers Want Safer Drinking Water (01/11)
Congress is zeroing in on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and not just in regards to climate change regulations. Many policymakers want the EPA to do more to ensure safe drinking water. California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation (S.79) to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to require a standard and advisory for hexavalent chromium in drinking water for vulnerable individuals. Senator Boxer introduced a bill (S.78) to protect vulnerable individuals from perchlorate in drinking water. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) intends to introduce legislation to add more potential drinking water contaminants to the growing list of chemicals that EPA regulates. Lautenberg wants standards and rules for gasoline additives like MTBE, pesticides and “fracking chemicals”.
Chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas extraction remain a significant concern for members of Congress. On January 31, Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-NJ) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) posted a letter addressed to the EPA about the amount and use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing. They want to know what EPA is doing about potential contamination of drinking water by the diesel fuel and if the past use of diesel fuel violates any part of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Oil Spill Response Bills in the House (01/11)
Energy policy in the 112th Congress, while focused on clean energy, will also need to consider measures regarding mitigation and response to oil spills in the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010.
On January 5, 2011, Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) and other co-sponsors, introduced the Gulf Coast Restoration Act (H.R. 56), to establish a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force and a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Fund. The bill has been referred to the Natural Resources and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees for consideration.
On January 26, the House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member, Edward Markey (D-MA) and other House Democrats introduced an oil spill response measure (H.R. 501) to enact many of the recommendations of the President’s Oil Spill Commission. The bill would reorganize offshore drilling programs, eliminate the $75 million liability cap for companies involved in causing oil spills, and initiate a dedicated funding stream for oil spill cleanup research and development. The bill is similar to a measure put forward at the end of the 111th Congress, but has been updated to consider more of the Commission’s recommendations. Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) also introduced a bill (H.R. 492) to ensure that companies pay the full costs of oil spill clean-up.
Over in the Senate, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced two measures (S.214 and S.215) to ensure that companies pay the full costs of oil spill clean-up while Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) introduced two measures (S.203 and S.204) to require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct research on oil spill prevention and response in the Arctic and to permit funds from the Oil Spill Liability Trust to be used for NOAA oil spill research.
EPA Releases Guidelines for Hexavalent Chromium in Water Supplies (01/11)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued guidelines on January 11 to all public water systems on how to monitor and test for hexavalent chromium (chromium-6), a possible carcinogen, in drinking water. The guidelines give recommendations for where to take water samples, how often to take them and which laboratory procedures should be used for detection. The guidelines come in response to a study released by the Environmental Working Group (see AGI Monthly Review December 2010 summary for more details).
The EPA released a draft review of chromium-6 in September 2010 and will release a final human health assessment in 2011. In their news release , the EPA states that it will carefully consider and review the conclusions to determine if a new standard should be set.
Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), introduced S. 79, a bill to set a deadline for EPA to establish chromium-6 levels in drinking water.
National Oil Spill Commission Releases Final Report and Recommendations (01/11)
The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released their final report, Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling, on January 11, 2011. The Oil Spill Commission (OSC) discussed the results and their recommendations at a conference at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
During the conference, members stressed the urgency and importance of creating a more effective safety and regulation system while at the same time increasing research and development regarding all aspects of for offshore oil and gas development as well as renewable offshore energy resources.
A “culture of complacency” regarding safety standards and regulation within the industry and the federal government led to a series of preventable mistakes that caused the disaster, highlighting what the commission called a systemic problem with offshore drilling. In turn, the commission recommends creating a new safety entity within the restructured Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), that would have the enforcement authority and oversight of all aspects of offshore drilling. Taking guidance from the nuclear and chemical industries, the oil and gas industry should create an industry-run private safety organization, separate from the American Petroleum Institute, to develop and enforce safety standards.
The commission suggests giving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along with input from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a formal consultative role in the leasing process; involving NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Department of Energy (DOE) and academia in risk assessment; and creating an environmental science division led by a Chief Scientist within BOEMRE to advise the safety authority on environmental considerations concerning leasing. The report also recommends giving NOAA, the Coast Guard and EPA a role in evaluating, reviewing and approving oil spill response and containment plans.
The report discusses the need to research the effects of oil and gas development in less understood frontier areas, such as the Arctic and the Atlantic, and suggests creating a board of experts from NOAA, USGS, DOI, DOE, EPA, professional societies, academia, industry and nongovernmental organizations to head such research. Research gaps to fill include understanding and predicting the fate of underwater oil plumes, estimating the amount of oil spilled and characterizing the subsurface geology.
The commission recommends that Congress provide mandatory funding for oil spill response research. OCS member Terry D. Garcia called for improvements in response and containment technology for offshore drilling.
The commission suggests that funding for additional research, technology development and safety enforcement should come from portions of fees that drilling companies pay for federal leases. The report recommends providing incentives, such as tax credits, for private investment in oil spill research. It suggests using eighty percent of fees collected for Clean Water Act penalties for long term restoration and monitoring of the Gulf of Mexico.
Commission members applauded the efforts by scientists during the disaster. Co-chair Bob Graham mentioned that the flowing well was ultimately successfully sealed because a hydrologist at the USGS, under the direction of USGS Director Marcia McNutt, developed a model that showed it was safe for the final capping device to remain in place. Without the expertise and analysis from the hydrologist with experience in fluid flow the containment cap may have been removed because of concerns about pressure anomalies.
At the conference, commissioners discussed the report in a broader context of a long-term U.S. energy plan. Commissioner Fran Ulmer acknowledged the U.S.’s need for a vibrant oil and gas industry but stated that “we can do it more safely.” The commission acknowledged that the proposed recommendations are not intended to put an end to offshore drilling, but Commissioner Frances Beinecke did stress the importance of developing a plan to avoid “drilling our way to dependence.”
National Oil Spill Commission Finishing its Work (12/10)
The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling held its final public meeting on December 2 to 3 in Washington DC. The meeting covered regulatory oversight of the drilling industry; environmental review and drilling in the Arctic; oil spill containment and response in the Gulf; oil spill impacts in the Gulf; and recovery and restoration of the Gulf. A video and written archive of the meeting is available online.
The commission also announced that their final report will be released on January 11 and they will hold a public forum in New Orleans on January 12, 2011.
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Two major pieces of legislation regulate the nation's waters: the Clean Water Act (CWA) governs navigable waters including lakes, rivers, aquifers, and coastal areas and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) governs the nation's public drinking water supply. Congress has been unable to reauthorize the CWA in its entirety, but continues to appropriate funds for its implementation while debating several issues, such as wetland preservation and local wastewater treatment. The SDWA authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set national drinking water standards to protect against both naturally occurring and anthropogenic contaminants. EPA is currently investigating several specific health risks including: arsenic, radon, microbial contaminants, and the byproducts of drinking water disinfection. Water use and reuse, conservation and efficiency, and rural infrastructure are also major concerns.
The USGS implemented the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program in 1991 to develop long-term consistent and comparable information on streams, rivers, ground water, and aquatic systems to help with decisions related to water-quality management and policy. In May 2004, the USGS’s National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) presented findings from its first decade of research. The assessments found that contaminants and their effects are controlled by a complex set of both human and naturally induced factors such as land use, chemical use, urbanization, geology, and hydrology. NAWQA activities during the second decade (2001-2012) focus in large part on national and regional assessments, including continuing national-synthesis assessments of information on pesticides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nutrients, selected trace elements, and aquatic ecology, studies on five national priority topics, and regional assessments of water-quality and trends in surface water and principal aquifers.
With long-term aridity facing much of the nation, particularly the Western states, water resource issues are becoming a growing concern for Congress. Some places, such as the Colorado River basin and parts of Montana, have had seven straight years of drought. In February 2007, an Associated Press article reported that the U.S. Climatic Data Center predicted that 67 percent of the western United States will be in moderate to extreme drought by the end of spring 2007, as well as a large portion of the southern U.S. These dry conditions have led to low municipal, industrial, commercial, and agricultural water supplies. Concerns about maintaining adequate water supplies across the nation have prompted Congress to schedule a number of hearings to consider steps to mitigate the current problem and to prepare for future water demands.
The Great Lakes are an extremely valuable natural resource for the United States. Constituting one-fifth of the global supply of fresh water, they provide over 35 million Americans with drinking water, food, transportation, and recreation. However, the resources of the Great Lakes are threatened by a variety of environmental problems, including pollution, toxins, invasive species, erosion, habitat loss, and unsustainable development. To address some of these problems, nine federal agencies and several states have implemented nearly 200 environmental restoration programs in the Great Lakes region since the 1970s.
In 2003, the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study to identify, evaluate, and assess federal and state restoration programs in the Great Lakes. GAO found that 148 federal and 51 state programs were funding environmental restoration in the area, causing them to recommend "a coordinated strategic plan and monitoring system... to achieve restoration goals."
In response, President Bush issued an executive order in May 2004 that called for the establishment of a Great Lakes Interagency Task Force to improve coordination and communication of Great Lakes restoration projects. Chaired by the EPA Administrator, the task force includes the heads of the Departments of State, the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, the Army, Homeland Security, and the Council on Environmental Quality. A Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy (GLRCS) team released a report in December 2005.
Wetlands and Coastal Resources
Wetlands are complex ecosystems that are among some of the nation's most valuable resources. They serve several ecological functions including improving water quality, controlling floods, diminishing droughts, and stabilizing shorelines. Home to many rare and endangered species of plants and animals, they not only serve the interests of natural ecosystems, but also serve hazard management, economic, and commercial interests, such as coastal drilling for oil and natural gas. Prior to the mid-1970's, wetlands were regularly drained and filled in for development projects, leading to a loss of about half of the wetlands in the contiguous United States since the 1600's. In the 1970's, however, wetlands were recognized as a resource of ecological value, and concern about their loss led to federal efforts to protect them on both public and private lands.
Federal efforts to protect and preserve coastal barriers from major development have similarly gathered momentum over the past few decades. Coastal barriers, such as barrier islands and sand spits, play an important ecological role by protecting human communities and ecosystems, including coastal wetlands, from storm damage. In addition to being the first line of defense against major storms, coastal barriers provide habitat for valuable seafood and wildlife species and are often popular recreation areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for managing coastal barriers that are protected under the Coastal Barriers Resources Act (S. 1869).
President Bush declared a new policy in April 2004 to increase total wetland area in the United States by 1 million acres and to increase protection of an additional 2 million acres during the next five years. This policy will largely be implemented through a Natural Resources Conservation Service program in which farmers receive grants when they set aside wetlands on their property, and through an increase of Wetlands Reserve Program funding from $15 million in 2004 to a proposed $455 million in 2008. The actual funding levels are anticipated to be outlined in a new Farm Bill in 2009. The Bush administration also advocates the mitigation bank approach, which allows developers to fill in wetlands if they pay for creation of new wetlands elsewhere. Some concerns have been raised by organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation about the higher quality of wetlands that have already been lost compared to those that will be constructed.
Wetlands are otherwise primarily regulated by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) programs under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1977. Section 404 seeks to protect wetlands and adjacent waterways though permitting of dredged or fill materials that might cause environmental degradation. It does not regulate other acts, such as those that drain or flood wetlands. Many environmentalists disagree with the use of section 404 as the primary means for wetland protection, often noting that the program is weak because it is not comprehensive and not created specifically for wetland protection. Landowners generally feel they should be allowed to alter their land as they see fit, and taking away that right through wetland designation decreases the value of their property.
The Marine Resources and Engineering Development Act of 1966 was the first legislation to define a national ocean policy. The law 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 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 National Sea Grant College Programs Amendment Act of 2008 (H.R. 5618) was signed by President Bush in October 2008. 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 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 Act was last reauthorized in 2002.
Other key ocean legislation for the 110th Congress was the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM) Act of 2007 (H.R. 4174). The FOARAM Act passed the House in July 2008, but never made it to the Senate floor for a vote. The legislation would establish an interagency 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 near the North Pole. 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 that the area is a continuation of the continental shelf from the nation’s coastline. 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 and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved ratification again in 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 and navigation, while supporters fear the U.S. will lose claims to vital ocean assets if it is not a part of the treaty.
Outer Continental Shelf
Activities on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) are of interest to the geoscience community for a variety of reasons. The availability of resources, possibilities for energy production, environmental impacts from all activities, and proximity to highly populated coastlines all play a role in OCS policy. Of all the activities on the OCS, the most visible, and contentious, are those associated with the leasing and development of OCS lands for fossil fuel exploration and development and the collection and distribution of resulting revenues from these leases. Environmental concerns have prompted the establishment of leasing and drilling moratoria that prohibit most OCS production. Last year, due to rising energy costs, President Bush lifted the executive moratorium on OCS development and the 110th Congress allowed their congressional ban to expire. The new Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is currently conducting studies to determine the feasibility of developing wind and wave power offshore.
The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is defined by current law as the submerged lands that stretch between 3 and about 690 geographical miles seaward of the U.S. coastline. Within the first 3 miles of a state's shore, all subsoil and seabed resources are managed by the state. The Gulf of Mexico coasts of Texas and Florida are the exceptions, with state waters extending to about 9 geographical miles. Beyond 690 miles, or 200 nautical miles (nm), the seabed and subsoil are considered to be in international waters. The 200 nm expanse beginning at the shoreline is referred to as a nation's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The OCS and EEZ are extended if the coastal margin is geologically defined as extending beyond the 200 nm limit. Such extensions can be found off of Alaska, the Atlantic coast, and in the Gulf of Mexico. Where the geological continental margin is narrow, as in the Pacific, federal jurisdiction is limited to within the 200 nm zone.
State jurisdiction over coastal resources was passed and signed into law under the Eisenhower administration, with the Submerged Lands Act of 1953. In the same year of the Submerged Lands Act, Congress and President Eisenhower passed into law the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OSCLA), which grants to the Secretary of the Interior authority over all mineral resources on the OCS.
Contributed by Linda Rowan, Geoscience Policy staff; Dana Thomas, AAPG/AGI Spring 2011 Intern; Vicki Bierwirth, AIPG/AGI Summer 2011 Intern; Erin Camp, AAPG/AGI Fall 2011 Intern; and Kathryn Kynett, AAPG/AGI Fall 2012 Intern.
Background section includes material from AGI's summaries and updates for Water and Ocean Policy in the 111th Congress.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.
Last updated on December 5, 2012