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On January 8, the Senate unanimously passed Senator Roger Wicker’s (R-MS) Coordinated Ocean Monitoring and Research Act (S.1425). The bipartisan bill revises and reauthorizes the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System (ICOOS) Act of 2009, which established the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) to consolidate and coordinate the efforts of hundreds of federal, state, and local observing programs through fiscal year (FY) 2021. In addition to reauthorizing the ICOOS Act, S.1425 promotes best practices regarding data sharing for public use, investment in autonomous unmanned underwater and surface ocean research vehicles, closing gaps in high frequency radar, and assisting Coast Guard search and rescue operations.
Last month, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report titled Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space. Commissioned by the civilian agencies involved with space-based Earth observations – the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey – the study identifies key science and application priorities for 2017-2027. The report calls for the overall U.S. government’s program of Earth observations from space to be robust, resilient, and appropriately balanced, and for federal agencies to ensure efficient and effective use of U.S. resources.
Following several executive orders issued by President Donald Trump, the Department of the Interior and the EPA announced rulemaking revisions to offshore drilling protections, fracking regulations, and the Clean Power Plan in the final days of 2017.
On December 22, President Donald Trump signed into law a bill to provide for tax reform and legislation to continue funding the federal government under fiscal year (FY) 2017 levels through January 19. Lawmakers from various states impacted by hurricanes and wildfires this year were seeking billions more in disaster aid funding, but Congress stopped short of sending an $81 billion relief package to the President before the end of the year.
On December 22, the USGS released a new assessment of undiscovered oil and gas resources in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A). Just weeks before release of the USGS report, the Bureau of Land Management held its annual oil and gas lease sale for all available tracts in the NPR-A on December 6. The sale lasted less than 10 minutes and received only 7 bids.
Following a highly destructive wildfire season this year for the west coast, the House passed the United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R.4661) to reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration, the Assistance to Firefighters Grants program, and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants program through fiscal year 2023.
Following the release of a USGS report on 23 mineral commodities that are critical for the U.S. economy and security, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to reduce America's dependence on foreign sources of critical minerals. Shortly after the executive order, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a secretarial order on December 21 directing the initial steps to producing a nationwide geological and topographical survey of the U.S.
On Monday, December 18, a day that was informally declared “Science Day in Congress”, the House considered three bipartisan pieces of legislation that support careers and education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
At an executive session on December 13, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved the nomination of Barry Myers as Administrator of NOAA, the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) Reauthorization Act of 2018 and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Reauthorization Act of 2017.
On December 12, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing, “Examining Consequences of America’s Growing Dependence on Foreign Minerals,” to discuss reasons for the declining self-sufficiency of the United States for mineral commodities, and the consequences of relying on foreign sources for critical minerals.
On December 4, following an ongoing review by the Department of the Interior of 27 national monuments, President Donald Trump signed two proclamations reducing the Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah by about 85 percent and 47 percent, respectively. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke publicly released his final report to the President one day later, which recommended modifications to national monuments in Nevada, Oregon, and California.
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a legislative hearing on December 14 to consider the Grand Staircase Escalante Enhancement Act, introduced by Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT-2) to create Utah’s sixth national park - the Escalante Canyons National Park and Preserve.
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on November 30 to discuss a draft bill to promote timely geothermal energy exploration under federal leases, and three other bills related to geologic mapping and hazards research, monitoring, and response.
On November 13, President Donald Trump nominated Dr. Tim Petty to be Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science, with direction to oversee the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Reclamation. On November 2, the Senate confirmed by voice vote three previous nominees to serve at the Department of Energy: Steven Winberg as Assistant Secretary of Energy (Fossil Energy), Mark Wesley Menezes as Under Secretary of Energy, and Paul Dabbar as Under Secretary for Science.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations released the fiscal year 2018 appropriations legislation for Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which outlines their proposed budget for the U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, among other agencies. The appropriations bill totals $32.6 billion in discretionary funding, including $12.17 billion for the Department of the Interior.
Nebraska regulators from the Nebraska Public Service Commission approved the building of the Keystone XL pipeline on November 20.
On November 18, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a new satellite for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has significantly better imaging capabilities than any of its predecessors.
On November 16, the House of Representatives passed H.R.1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, introduced by Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX-8). Generally, the bill restructures the tax code with fewer tax brackets and repeals or modifies a number of provisions. The House bill would repeal Sec. 117(d)(5) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, which allows for the tax exemption of tuition waivers for graduate students serving as teaching and research assistants. If the provision was to become law, student taxable income would include both the graduate assistant stipend and the value of the tuition waiver.
In response to the catastrophic wildfires in 2017 thus far, and the escalating costs of battling fire-related damages, Congress is fielding legislation to promote forest management techniques that would return resilience to overgrown, fire-prone forested lands.
On November 14 the House of Representatives passed legislation that would reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five more years, while making several operational changes. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the NFIP is not fiscally sustainable in its present form, and is currently set to expire on December 8.
On November 8, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources introduced reconciliation legislation, fulfilling instructions in the fiscal year 2018 budget resolution for the committee to provide legislative recommendations to the Senate Committee on the Budget that would result in $1 billion in new revenue over ten years to offset federal tax cuts.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program released a draft of the highly-anticipated Fourth National Climate Assessment for public comment on November 3. The NCA is a quadrennial scientific assessment, which analyzes the impacts of both human-induced and natural global climate change, mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990.
The devastating 2017 hurricane season has prompted Congress to take action in recent months, with a number of committee hearings held in both chambers and new legislation introduced relating to natural disaster preparedness and response.
Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX-21) announced in a statement shared on Twitter on November 2 that he will not seek re-election in 2018 for his seat representing the 21st district of Texas. Representative Smith has served as a member of Congress since 1987, and will complete his six-year term as Chairman of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology at the end of the 115th Congress, which will conclude on January 3, 2019.
Responding to the widespread destruction from three catastrophic hurricanes, massive wildfires, and a bankrupt federal flood insurance program, the House passed a $36.5 billion disaster aid package on October 12.
On October 19, the Senate passed a fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget resolution (H.Con.Res.71) with an amendment in the nature of a substitute (S.Amdt.1116), which sets the stage for passing tax reform legislation. Part of the Senate amendment includes instructions for both the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to write legislative recommendations by November 13 that would result in $1 billion in new revenue over ten years to offset federal tax cuts.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations has four major appropriation bills remaining to consider during the current Congressional session, including an appropriations bill for the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which will determine the FY 2018 budget for the U.S.
On October 17, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the BASIC Research Act, a bill that would fundamentally change how the federal government reviews research grant proposals. The bill seeks to make several changes to peer review processes and broaden public access requirements for grant applications and research results.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) agreed in a joint memorandum that the two agencies would halt plans to develop a second set of Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC) 2 satellites, known as COSMIC-2B. However, for FY18, President Trump’s budget did not include a funding request for COSMIC 2B.
Setting a new record for waiting longer than any other president to nominate a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator, President Donald Trump officially tapped Barry Myers, CEO of AccuWeather, to lead the federal agency in charge of weather and climate predictions, ocean and coastal research, and fisheries management.
On October 11, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources met to review a draft of the Accessing Strategic Resources Offshore (ASTRO) Act. Modeled after the successful revenue sharing scheme GOMESA, the ASTRO Act seeks to improve access to oil and gas resources and to provide more reliability in the federal management of OCS exploration and development.
In the wake of this year’s disastrous hurricane season, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded 59 grants totaling $5.3 million for projects that aim to that study how hurricanes form and intensify, and how we can best respond to the devastating effects of such disasters.
On October 4, 2017 the Climate Solutions Caucus hit a record 60 members, with the addition of California representatives Mimi Walters (R-CA-45) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA-31).
On September 27, both the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held hearings to explore methods of restoring the health and resiliency of national forests and to mitigate the threat of catastrophic wildfires.
The Senate unanimously passes the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2017, introduced on May 4 by Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Rob Portman (R-OH).
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on September 27 for four presidential nominations, including Howard “Skip” Elliott to head the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and Rear Admiral Timothy Gallaudet, an oceanographer and climate expert, to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), along with four Democratic cosponsors, introduced the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2017.
Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX-11) introduced the Carbon Capture Act (CCA). This legislation incentivizes Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) projects, which use technologies to capture up to 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions produced from industrial processes, including electricity generation.
On September 14, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published a list of actions that it will take to revise the federal environmental review process and authorization for infrastructure projects.
Senators Murkowski (R-AK) and King (I-ME) introduced a bill (S.1787) to reauthorize the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (NCGMP) through 2023.
The House passed 8 remaining appropriations bills in a single package on September 14 to provide all discretionary funding for the Federal Government in fiscal year (FY) 2018.
On September 11, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a bill to reauthorize the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program through 2023.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill to permanently reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP).
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill to permanently reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). The bill calls for the creation of a set of maps showing active faults and folds, liquefaction risk, landslide risk, and susceptibility to seismically induced hazards.
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources discussed three bills introduced before the August recess. Two of these bills seek to amend to the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, while the third bill proposes a new method for state onshore oil and gas leasing on federal lands.
President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Representative Jim Bridenstine (R-OK-1) to serve as the next Administrator for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). If confirmed by the Senate, Bridenstine would be the first NASA Administrator to be appointed with a professional background in politics, rather than a science and engineering background.
After Congress returns from the August recess, the Senate will have 17 legislative days and the House will have 12 legislative days remaining before the September 30 deadline to agree upon and pass all discretionary appropriations legislation in order to avoid a government shutdown.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Gulf coast of Texas as a category 4 storm on August 25, dumping massive amounts of rain on southeast Texas and surrounding areas. The projected disaster relief costs may put a large financial strain on Congress when it returns to session after the August recess.
In anticipation of Hurricane Harvey making landfall on the Gulf Coast, several federal science agencies prepared for the massive storm by monitoring its development and helping direct FEMA's resources to the likely hard-hit areas.
The White House issued guidance for reasearch and development priorities for fiscal year 2019, focusing on shifting projects to private industry and supporting basic research that can best serve the American people.
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