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Washington Policy and Regulatory Updates

Our ENS Federal Report provides a summary and the status on select legislative and regulatory actions.

We normally issue a Report when both Chambers are in session

ENS Federal Report

November 13, 2020

ENS Federal Report – October 23, 2020


House Democrats Unveil Comprehensive Climate and Ocean Bill

House Democrats this week released legislation to address coastal oceans resiliency and improve coordination among federal agencies and non-federal groups to improve data collection, conduct research and demonstration and technology deployment, and implement programs to restore threatened or lost coastal wetlands due to climate change impacts. The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act (H.R. 8632) would primarily task the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to protect ocean and coastal resources ranging from water quality to corals to fisheries. Aside from a focus on enhancing the use of technology to better understand the health of coastal waters and wetlands, the bill would also provide for an increased focus upon threats from flooding and habitat losses due to sea level rise. Given the limited time remaining in the congressional session this year, the bill should be considered as a marker for action next Congress, either as a standalone measure or part of a broader climate initiative. Among the key provisions in the bill are:


Title I – Marine and Coastal Blue Carbon

  • Establishes a Blue Carbon Program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to coordinate federal efforts to study, monitor, preserve and restore blue carbon ecosystems in the United States.

  • Supports the conservation of blue carbon ecosystems through the sale and trading of carbon credits to leverage federal funding.

  • Calls for increased monitoring and assessment of climate impacts such as sea-level rise, acidification and saltwater intrusion, and water pollution.

  • Creates a Blue Carbon Partnership Grant Program to support restoration activities on non-federal lands and authorizes $200,000,000 million each year for fiscal years 2021-25. Local governments are eligible under this program.

  • Establishes an Interagency Working Group on Coastal and Marine Blue Carbon.


Title II – Marine Protected Areas

  • Establishes policy directives prohibiting commercial extractive or destructive practices in at least 30% of U.S. jurisdictional ocean waters by 2030 and support adoption and implementation of global goal to protect at least 30% of land and oceans by 2030 under the Convention of Biological Diversity.

  • Establishes an interagency task force to develop a plan and schedule for protection polices, update federal inventories of protected areas, identify candidates for protection, and set annual benchmarks for policy achievements. Task Force will also develop a plan to provide technical assistance to identify oceanic areas for protection beyond U.S. jurisdictional boundaries.

  • Directs an analysis into the marine biodiversity gap, which will be updated not less than once every two years. Analysis will assess habitats, species, and ecosystems and determine what and the percentage of the habitats, species, and ecosystems require protection to enhance biodiversity and mitigate and provide resilience to impacts of climate change.


Title III – Offshore Energy

  • Supports research, development, demonstration, and commercial application of marine energy technology. This includes efforts to improve power generation from marine energy resources, the integration of marine energy with the electric grid (smart building systems), and the development of numerical and physical tools, including monitoring technologies.


Title IV – Climate-Ready Fisheries, Efficient Fishery Vessels, And Buy American Seafood

  • Directs NOAA to establish program to identify, develop, and implement adaptive strategies to improve management of fisheries under current and anticipated impacts of climate change. The program will focus on expanding and improving data monitoring and collection of fisheries, promoting management practices that increase resilience of species, and ensuring research, resource management, and expenditures to prepare fisheries for climate change that promote racial and socioeconomic equity regarding environmental and economic outcomes. Secretary will conduct evaluation of the Program every 3 years and report its findings to Congress.

  • No later than 1 year from bill’s enactment, the Administrator will establish a program that includes grants, to develop innovative tools and approaches designed to increase adaptive capacity of fishery management to impacts of climate change. The program will develop tools and approaches by working with other governmental entities, scientists, and fishery managers, including regional governmental offices, science centers of National Marine Fisheries Service, regional Fishery Management Councils, scientific and statistical communities and other relevant programs.

  • Establishes the “Shifting Stocks Task Force” consisting of 10 members recommended by the Regional Fishery Management Councils and Highly Migratory Species Advisory Panel and NOAA. Appointed members will have strong scientific or technical credentials and will be federal or state employees, tribal and indigenous representatives, academics, or independent experts. No later than 1 year after date of enactment of bill, Task Force will develop science-based decision-making criteria to be used to make jurisdictional, allocation, and management decisions that minimize the risks of overfishing and maximize stock and ecosystem resilience to the effects of climate change.

  • Allows the public to submit petitions requesting the Task Force conduct a review of a shifting stock. If Task Force determines petition justified, the Administrator will consult with Regional Fishery Management Council regarding necessary changes to ensure compliant management plan that accounts for best available science on shifting stocks and recommendations is created, published, and implemented.

  • Establishes the requirement that a federal agency, whose actions may adversely affect essential fish habitats, will ensure that it avoids adverse actions and when adverse impacts cannot be avoided, that the agency will minimize and mitigate the adverse affects.


Title VII – National Ocean Policy, Data, and Coordinated Website for Grant Programs

  • Directs NOAA to establish a publicly available website that provides links and information pertaining to all grants administered by NOAA and other federal agencies to assist States and local communities with resiliency, adaptation, and mitigation of climate change and sea-level rise.

Title X – Coastal Resiliency And Adaption

  • Directs NOAA to establish grants program to support the design and implementation of large and small-scale climate-resilient living shoreline projects and application of innovative use of natural materials and systems to protect coastal communities, habitats, and natural systems. Authorizes $50 million for each of the fiscal years 2021-2025 for section.

  • Eligible project sponsors will submit proposals for living shoreline projects with the appropriate data and performance criteria, demonstrate to NOAA that it has the necessary permits or authorizations from local, State, and federal governmental agencies to carry out the projects, and include engagement or education component seeking or soliciting feedback from local or regional community directly affected by proposal.

  • NOAA will select proposal based on criteria developed in consultation with relevant offices and grant priority will be given to projects in areas where the President has declared, within 10-years of project proposal submission, a major disaster, or the area has a documented history of coastal erosion or frequent inundation during prior decade.

  • The cost-share for a grant for the project sponsor is to be not less than 50% of total project cost and must be derived from non-federal sources. However, requirement may be waived or reduced if sponsor submits request for reduction or waiver and NOAA determines justification valid. Awarded funding can only be used to carry out the project (e.g. administration, design, permitting, entry into negotiated indirect cost rate agreements, and construction) to monitor, collect and report data on performance, or incentivize landowners to engage with living shoreline projects.

  • Establishes a grants program to provide funding and technical assistance for purposes of carrying out projects that restore marine, estuary, coastal, or Great Lakes habitats or provides adaption to climate change, including constructing or protecting ecological features or nature-based infrastructure that protects coastal communities from sea level rise, coastal storms, flooding, or blue carbon projects. Authorized at $3 billion for fiscal year 2020 and to remain available until expended.

  • Priority will be given to project proposals that stimulate economy, demonstrate that grant will fund work that begins no later than 90 days after date of award, demonstrate grant will fund work that employs fisherman negatively impacted by COVID-19, demonstrates that preliminary study or permit required before project has been completed or can be completed shortly after receiving grants, or includes communities that may not have adequate resources.

  • Directs the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to establish a Strategic Climate Change Relocation Initiative to coordinate federal agency activities to identify and assist communities that have expressed affirmative interest in relocation due to health, safety and environmental impacts from climate change.

  • Initiative will report to Congress recommending key elements of Strategic Climate Change Relocation Program. The report will identify areas and communities likely for relocation and adaption strategies, outline criteria for climate relocation assistance, identify the roles states and local governments should play in implementing Program, provide guidance on and identify additional funding operations and maintenance requirements for vacated land, review efficacy of existing flood mitigation strategies and identify opportunities to coordinate blue-green infrastructure solutions with buyout programs, and outline amount and timing of federal funding expected to implement Program.

  • Initiative will develop a report, in consultation with external advisory panel, on its review and project evaluations, and provide report for public review and comment, and within 2 years of report submission, the report’s recommended pilot projects are to be carried out.


Title XI – Ocean Health: Ocean Acidification and Harmful Algal Blooms

  • Requires an assessment on ocean acidification of coastal communities to be conducted every seven years. The assessment would target impacts to fisheries, social and economic vulnerabilities, and research needs into adaptation strategies. Coastal research plan would be established to address, among other matters, decreased pH, nutrient run-off, and coastal atmospheric pollution that releases carbon dioxide. Additionally, any plan must identify monitoring needs and research to understand cumulative stressors and other biogeochemical processes. Research programs would be supported by a total of $50.5 million annually for each of FY 2021-2025.

  • Strategic plans to support state, local and tribal needs would be required to support development of responses to impacts upon coastal communities.

  • A South Florida Clean Coast Waters program (South Florida Water Management District boundaries other regional coastal waters) would be established to conduct an assessment into hypoxia impacts and to develop an action plan to reduce, mitigate, and control algal blooms and hypoxia, including implementation of remote monitoring and early warning system to communities risks.

  • The federal disaster relief and emergency law (Stafford Act) would be amended to qualify drought and algal blooms for emergency funding.

  • $12 million per year for FY 20221-2025 would be available to support creation of Federal Centers of Excellence to enhance the knowledge and impacts of algal blooms on the environment and public health. Among the Centers’ priorities would be advancing forecasting and monitoring, mitigating impacts, and address existing and emerging bloom issues. Centers would be designated at a college or university that are located in area economically and environmentally impacted.


Title XII – Data and Scientific Coordination

  • Mandates federal agencies to work with international coordinating bodies to ensure solid measurements of Great Lakes, oceans, bays, and coasts, including oceanographic information, satellite and geospatial data, coordinating supercomputing capacity, and to improve mapping. As part of the overall effort, a research agenda would be mandated to deliver improved understanding of sea level rise threats to coastal areas to better inform how to adapt to (and increase resiliency) such threats.

  • A committee on Ocean Policy would be created in the White House to identify research, technology and data needs, work with stakeholders to address intergovernmental solutions, and evaluate threats to coastal communities from storm events and sea level rise and implement policies and programs to meet identified impacts. Federal agencies directed to coordinate activities to promote healthy ecosystems for fisheries and wildlife conservation.

  • Creates a national coastal data information system to produce and maintain data, maps, and information services that quantify and communicate flood risks.

  • Creates a digital coast program to provide for enhanced resilient communities, economic growth, and ecosystem protection. Within this program, key data would include coastal elevation, land use and cover, socioeconomic and human use, critical infrastructure, living resources and habitat datum.

  • Establishes an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Oceans based upon study findings on need for such an agency. If created, the agency would support advanced research and development of technologies to improve data collection, overcome barriers to adoption of new technologies, improve management practices to protect ecosystems, improve technology for fishery census, and to ensure that U.S. maintains technological lead in development and deployment of advanced ocean technologies.


Title XIII – Wetlands

  • Establishes a coastal wetlands and estuary resiliency program to provide grants ($200 million for each of FY 2021-2025) to restore nonfederal coastal wetlands and develop natural infrastructure projects to protect such wetlands. State and local governments, in addition to universities and NGO’s, would be eligible for assistance.

  • Eligible projects would include those that reduce net greenhouse gases through restoring wetlands, protecting threatened coastal wetlands, or provide for ecosystem resilience to flooding, ocean acidification, or sea level rise, and halting methane emissions through restoration of formerly tidal wetlands that have become fresh water wetlands due to loss of connectivity to coasts.

  • A similar program for federal coastal wetlands restoration would be established at the Department of the Interior. Program funding would be identical with $200 million provided annually over five years to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and an additional identical amount to the National Park Service.


Administration Names Members of New Water Subcabinet

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the U.S. Department of the Interior announced designees for the Water Subcabinet established by President Trump’s Executive Order, Modernizing America’s Water Resource Management and Water Infrastructure, issued on October 13.  The action formalizes the Water Subcabinet membership as directed by the Executive Order. The goals of the Water Subcabinet include improved coordination among federal agencies and increasing water storage, water supply reliability and drought resiliency.

Secretary of the Department of the Interior, David Bernhardt and Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, co-chair the Subcabinet. The Subcabinet’s membership includes:

  • Tim Petty, Assistant Secretary of Water and Science, Department of the Interior

  • David Ross, Assistant Administrator for Water, USEPA

  • Bill Northey, Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works

  • Daniel R. Simmons, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy

  • Rear Admiral Gallaudet, Deputy Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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