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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Less than one-third of the U.S. is mapped at the level of detail necessary to make informed planning decisions on a local scale concerning natural resources, natural hazards, infrastructure planning, and environmental stewardship. In the Great Lakes region, the Great Lakes Geologic Mapping Coalition (GLGMC), a group including U.S. and Canadian state and provincial geological surveys, is producing detailed 3D geologic maps that are helping to provide decision-relevant information to Great Lakes state communities. Due to similar regional geology, these state surveys can work together, sharing their expertise and resources so that each can better address geologic issues in their area. Working with the communities, the GLGMC provides and makes maps that solve problems such as groundwater contamination and resource development.