Program Update: Advocacy – February 2014

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In early February, Consortium for Ocean Leadership sent a letter to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith [R-TX], addressing concerns over several provisions to a draft science authorization bill (FIRST Act) that could threaten scientific integrity and hinder social and behavioral sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The letter does support the legislation’s request for involvement of stakeholder input in prospective STEM education program reform at federal agencies. Ocean Leadership also joined with science organizations in sending a letter of concern to Chairman Smith regarding authorized funding levels, support for all science disciplines, and the peer-review process. In addition, Ocean Leadership signed onto another letter defending NSF’s merit review process.

The Farm Bill (H.R. 2642) was signed into law in early February without The Sound Science Act, Sec. 12307. The section was stripped from the legislation during the House-Senate conference. Consortium for Ocean Leadership and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) submitted a joint letter in opposition to the section in November of 2013. Ocean leadership and UCAR joined in thanking the 13 Senators that stood up for science in the Farm Bill.

In late February, agency science protocols were questioned by Republicans on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, with the introduction of a bill referred to as the “Secret Science Reform Act of 2014” (H.R. 4021). The objective of the legislation is to increase Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transparency of the merits of scientific studies that underpin the agency’s regulations. During a House Subcommittee on Environment hearing, Committee Democrats voiced an interest in improving transparency and public access to federally funded research at the EPA. However, many fear that the proposed bill could actually prohibit EPA from increasing transparency by preventing the EPA from using the best available science to direct regulatory actions. Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici [D-OR] outlined potential negative effects that the bill could have on the scientific community, saying “researchers and organizations may be hesitant to conduct EPA-funded research if they are required to disclose protected information like health records.”  Letters from medical associations, environmental organizations, and concerned scientists have been sent to the Committee leadership asking to oppose the legislation and were entered into the official record.

In mid-February, hearings were held in both the Senate and House regarding the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).  The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard held its third regionally-focused Senate hearing, this time focusing on the west coast and western pacific perspective, and how the MSA has supported or impeded the challenges facing sustainable fisheries management.  Subcommittee Chairman Mark Begich [D-AK] plans to introduce a framework bill for reauthorizing the law, following a final hearing with stakeholders in the North Pacific region. Overall, both Members and witness’s agreed that the MSA is working, but small changes might be considered to increase output of reliable data and collaboration to better assess quotas to better serve conservation needs. The House Natural Resource Committee hearing regarding the fisheries law was held to review a discussion draft introduced by Committee Chairman Doc Hastings [R-WA] that would amend the MSA. The draft suggests a number of changes, addressing issues similar to those raised by industry representatives at the Senate hearing: flexibility in stock rebuilding, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance requirements, and processes for scientific and management actions. Ranking Member Peter DeFazio [D-OR] criticized the removal of NEPA provisions, stating that it would be detrimental for Fishery Management Councils to approve fisheries without proper environmental review. Following the hearing, Democrat Members sent a letter to Chairman Hastings criticizing the Committee Republicans for not pursuing input from minority witnesses.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing in late February to review four fishery treaties, focusing attention to the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, better known as the Port State Measures Agreement. Testimony was given about the importance of research on the effects of illegal fishing and its economic consequences. Senator Ed Markey [D-MA] vowed to have the Senate move forward with all the treaties.

A congressional working group made up of House Republicans released recommendations for reforming the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including increasing scientific transparency; highlighting species recovery and delisting; reforming the settlements made between federal agencies and conservation groups; and improving collaboration with states, tribes, and other stakeholders. Furthermore, the recommendations require increased regulation of peer-review and science-based decision making with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). There has been backlash from Democrat Committee Members over the report, also noting that it would not go anywhere in the Senate. The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter to Doc Hastings [R-WA] stating that the ESA report is “riddled with errors.”

In early February, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a markup of several pieces of legislation, ranging from wetland conservation programs to air and water quality regulations – the 10 bills will advance to the Senate floor. Additionally, the Committee moved forward with six nominations, one of which is Rhea Suh to be Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife. Committee Democrats expressed support for Suh’s nomination, while Committee Republicans disagree with the nominee’s policy priorities. Nonetheless, all the nominations were reported favorably to the Senate in a party line vote. However, Suh must wait for the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to vote on her nomination, which is also appearing to be controversial.

Mike Boots is stepping in at Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) following Nancy Sutley’s departure in mid-February.  President Obama still hasn’t announced nominees to replace Sutley or her former deputy, Gary Guzy, after both announced their departures late last year.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing this month to examine the economic burden of not being prepared for extreme weather events. Witnesses expressed that governments at all levels can take additional steps to limit storm damage by strengthening resilience and adaption actions, and investing in weather-resistant infrastructure, which poses to have long-term economic value. Dr. Paul Kirshen, Research Professor at University of New Hampshire, studied integrated adaption strategies and found that areas with a protection-based adaption plan, such as a seawall to protect against coastal flooding, was more valuable to densely built-up areas.

Also in February, the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation held a hearing to examine the future of marine aids for navigation. Witnesses expressed the need to modernize and update ocean mapping, maintain existing infrastructure, and changes in regulations to allow for improvements in technology, such as the autonomous underwater vehicles.

Join Ocean Leadership on March 12 in Washington, D.C. for the 2014 Public Policy Forum – The Urban Ocean.

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