National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

At sea. House lawmakers voted to block Obama Administration efforts to advance its National Ocean Policy, which includes efforts to coordinate marine research. Here, the U.S. research vessel Okeanos Explorer conducts operations in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. House Wants Limits on Climate, Marine Policy Programs

Some ocean and climate researchers are suffering a bit of heartburn from amendments that lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives last week added to a major spending bill.

In a 321 to 87 vote, the Republican-controlled House on 30 May approved a $51 billion spending bill that would fund the departments of Commerce and Justice, and an array of other agencies including the National Science Foundation (NSF), in the 2015 fiscal year that begins 1 October. During 2 days of debate on the bill, House members offered scores of amendments, many proposing to shift funding between programs or cut spending. NSF survived the free-for-all largely unscathed.

But lawmakers adopted several amendments that targeted marine research and climate science programs. The U.S. Senate, which this week begins work on its version of the spending bill, would have to agree to the amendments in order for them to become law (and in the past has stripped similar provisions from the legislation). For now, however, these amendments remain in the mix:

  • Representative Bill Flores (R–TX) successfully added language barring the president from enforcing his National Ocean Policy, which has been a partisan football in recent years. The amendment, which is similar to past amendments adopted by the House but later stripped from final measures, was approved on a voice vote.

  • In a 226 to 179 vote, the House adopted a proposal from Representative Mark Meadows (R–NC) to bar the United States from entering international trade agreements to cut climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

  • An amendment from Representative Scott Perry (R–PA), adopted on a voice vote, would bar spending money on a number of government climate assessments and reports, including the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s National Climate Assessment (NCA). The president has used the most recent NCA, released last month, to bolster his Climate Action Plan to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Several other amendments offered by Democrats to bolster funding for ocean acidification and climate research failed on voice votes.

Advocates for strong action on climate change are hoping the Senate will hold firm against the climate-related funding restrictions and strip out the “poison pills,” says Michael Halpern of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The White House has also indicated its opposition to climate research limits.

One ocean advocate, meanwhile, calls the House bill a “mixed bag. … We’re not thrilled but not devastated,” says Jeff Watters, acting director of government relations at the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C. “It certainly doesn’t meet our expectation of what needs to happen.”

Overall, the bill would keep top-line funding numbers for the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) roughly equal to current spending. But it would cut NOAA’s climate-related research funding by $37.5 million, or 24%, from 2014. It also rejects a NOAA request to spend $15 million on a package of three space-based instruments including the Total Solar Irradiance Sensor, and a $9 million boost, to $15 million, for NOAA’s ocean acidification research and monitoring programs.

In a report that accompanies the bill, the House also moved to block the White House’s controversial proposed closure of NOAA’s historic research lab near Beaufort, North Carolina.

Posted in Climate, Funding, Policy Budget 2015