Ocean Currents

NOAA Funding Bill Gets Poor Grades When It Comes to Supporting a Healthy Ocean

Credit: Architect of the Capitol

Last week, I wrote about what to look for in the about-to-be released bills for funding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including three questions to ask to determine whether the bill will support a healthy ocean. Now the House of Representatives has released its funding bill for NOAA.

As a former high school math and physics teacher, I thought grades were in order.

1. NOAA’s topline budget: does it cover the costs?     GRADE: C

We have written before about bigger problems within the federal budget and how those problems impact ocean funding. In the House, the overall amount of money allocated for NOAA is too low. But the reality is that only a solution at a much higher level, including the president and Congress working together, can fix the problem. So we’re cutting the House Committee some slack because we know that their hands are tied.

But the dysfunction of Washington is no excuse for NOAA’s budget to be $524 million below the president’s request. NOAA is facing a unique set of needs—like satellite acquisition—that mean flat-funding is not acceptable. NOAA needs increases or else people, services and the ocean environment are going to get left behind.

By essentially keeping the funding the same for the agency, the House is guaranteeing that something will have to be cut. It’s simple math.

2. Is there balance between NOAA’s wet and dry missions?     GRADE: D

Here, the House avoided an “F” by the skin of its teeth. In many ways, the House bill is atrocious when it comes to balancing NOAA’s portfolio. The National Ocean Service is funded at $128 million below the president’s request and the National Marine Fisheries Service at $83 million below. The ocean and coasts get left behind as members of Congress have tried to use what little funding there is to help the National Weather Service.

For example, Coastal Zone Management Grants, which fund state and regional priorities for the ocean, are cut by $31 million, nearly half the president’s request. Climate research is cut by a shocking $92 million. The only saving grace is a few examples of small but important programs that were preserved or increased—like a small increase in funding for ocean acidification research and monitoring.

3. Does the bill attack the National Ocean Policy?     GRADE: D

On the National Ocean Policy, the House bill again just ekes by. While the bill doesn’t attack the policy outright, it does not provide funding for this important initiative, and it takes the issue a step further with language making it clear that the House doesn’t support it. But the National Ocean Policy is bipartisan, spanning both Republican and Democratic administrations.

The National Ocean Policy is about balance, good governance and ensuring long-term sustainability for our ocean economy, ocean jobs and ocean environment. It calls for agencies to coordinate on their ocean activities and leverage limited resources, and for priorities to be set at the local and regional level instead of in Washington, D.C.

A handful of Congressmen that live nowhere near the ocean—namely Rep. Flores from Houston and Rep. Hastings from inland Washington state—have made a major push to get rid of the National Ocean Policy. These attacks on the policy are simply political gamesmanship—and it’s only fun and games until our coastal communities get hurt.

We expect these attacks to continue as this bill moves through full committee and then on to the House floor.

We will need to rely on the Senate to help restore these numbers. With over half of the members on the Senate Appropriations Committee representing coastal or Great Lakes states, there is hope that they will better understand the value of these programs. Stay tuned as the Senate begins its work on this bill this week.

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