On May 5, NASA successfully launched its first robotic explorer to conduct an in-depth study of the interior of Mars, along with two paired CubeSats, which are lower-cost, miniaturized satellites. NASA also launched an extension of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission on May 22 to monitor changes in surface and underground water on Earth.
On May 18, the Department of the Interior released the final version of the Critical Minerals List (83 FR 23295) in accordance with Executive Order 13817. After reviewing 453 comments, the final list is unchanged from the 35 minerals first proposed in the draft released in February this year.
In early-May, reports emerged that NASA canceled the Climate Monitoring Program (CMP). In effort to preserve the program, on May 17, the House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a manager’s amendment to report language of the Science Appropriations Act of 2019 (H.R. 5952) that would designate $10 million for a climate monitoring system.
The Senate unanimously passed the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act (S. 346), sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), on May 17. The bill establishes the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System, under the authority of the U.S. Geological Survey, to modernize and unify the current U.S. volcano monitoring network, including a data center and a national volcano monitoring office that is operational twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week.
On April 10, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released a Dear Colleague Letter, titled “Towards a New Approach for the Provision of Marine Seismic Capabilities to the U.S. Research Community,” announcing its decision to divest of the marine seismic research vessel Marcus G. Langseth by 2020. Early career geophysicists and groups such as the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) have replied to NSF with letters expressing concern about divestment of the vessel and limited options to continue cutting edge seismic research in deep-ocean crustal imaging.
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology approved three bipartisan bills on May 23 that support and expand science programs at the Department of Energy. H.R. 5905, the Department of Energy Science and Innovation Act of 2018, would reauthorize basic research programs in the DOE Office of Science. H.R. 5906, the ARPA-E Act of 2018, would expand the mission of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program. H.R. 5907, the National Innovation Modernization by Laboratory Empowerment Act, would allow the directors of national laboratories approve cooperative research agreements costing $1 million or less.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register that would revise and reduce regulations on offshore drilling outlined in the Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Final Rule of 2016 (WCR). BSEE is soliciting comments by July 10 on the proposed rulemaking, particularly relating to BOP testing materials, the 0.5 ppg (pounds per gallon) drilling margin rule, and alternative ways to meet the RTM provisions.
On May 10, the House passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2018 (H.R. 3053). The bill would resume and expedite licensing for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository and authorize the Department of Energy (DOE) to construct an interim storage facility for consolidation and temporary storage of nuclear waste in New Mexico until the completion of a permanent facility. The FY 2019 Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill (S. 2975) does not include funding for Yucca Mountain storage, but the House bill (H.R. 5895) would provide $268 million to restart the adjudication of the Yucca Mountain license application.
On May 10, Representative Marc Veasey (D-TX-33) introduced the Fossil Energy Research and Development Act (H.R. 5745), which would reauthorize the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy for the first time in over a decade to expand research on new carbon capture, sequestration, and utilization technologies. The proposed legislation authorizes $825 million for FY 2019, with slight funding increases each year through FY 2023, for these research expansions.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is poised to receive a significant increase in funding for FY 2019, as both the Senate and House Committees on Appropriations rejected the administration’s proposed cut of $4 billion. The House Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2019 would increase DOE funding by $925 million for a total budget of $35.5 billion, while the Senate’s version of the bill would provide a slightly lower total for DOE at $35.0 billion.