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Seventh Coalition Email

July 29, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

This is the 7th Email sent to those in the U.S. thought to have interest in harmful algal blooms (HABs). This Email is sent by Drs. Ken Hudnell, and Wayne Carmichael. As of today, over 1,000 people have joined our informal coalition to support the introduction, passage, and enactment of improved HAB legislation for all our Nations waters. The purpose of this Email is to update you on the current situation in the 112th U.S. Congress concerning HAB-relevant legislation. We believe that improved legislation is needed to protect human and animal health, aquatic ecosystems, and our economy, and to help ensure a sustainable supply of usable water.

The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research & Control Act (HABHRCA) of 2010 passed in the House last year with bipartisan support, but did not reach the Senate floor for a vote. The 2-year extension of HABHRCA passed by Congress in 2008 expired last year. Therefore, there is no current mandate for the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to maintain a HAB research and control program for coastal HABs (i.e. oceans, estuaries and the Great Lakes), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to receive a similar mandate for HABs in freshwater. Because the new 112th U.S. Congress was formed this year, we are back to square one. We are now working to have HABHRCA 2011 enacted this year. The following events have occurred.

  • June 1, 2011 - The House Energy and Environment Subcommittee (Chair Andy Harris (R-MD); Ranking Member Brad Miller (D-NC)) of the Space, Science & Technology Committee (Chair Ralph M. Hall (R-TX); Ranking Member Eddie B. Johnson (D-TX)) held a hearing on the current HABHRCA reauthorization bill (HR 2484). Six people testified in support of the bill.
  • June 16, 2011 - Ken Hudnell, Don Anderson, Andy Garfinkel (Environmental Lobbyist), and Peter Hill (WHOI Director of Government Relation) visited a number of House and Senate offices to stress the need to reauthorize HABHRCA and include an EPA mandate.
  • July 14, 2011 - The subcommittee held the markup of HR 2484, and voted to report the bill to the full committee for markup.
  • July 28, 2011 - The full committee held a markup of HR 2484, made several amendments, and voted to advance the bill to the floor.

Points in HR 2484 for consideration, relative to last year’s bill, HR 3650, include the following.

  • Authorizes (i.e., can appropriate up to ) $18 M per year for 2012-2015 for NOAA, versus $35 M per year in HR 3650.
  • Authorizes $2.7 M per year for 2012-2015 for EPA, versus $6 M per year in HR 3650. However, EPA has never received appropriations specifically for HAB research and control through any act.

 

It is unclear whether or not House democrats will support HR 2484 due to the decreased authorization levels, and HABHRCA is not finalized yet. The Senate has not introduced its bill (expected to be led by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), sponsor of HABHRCA 1998, the original HAB act), and the House and Senate will go into conference to produce a final bill if HABHRCA passes in both chambers. It is important that the EPA mandate for HAB research and control in freshwater specify that the Agency coordinate with NOAA to fund research through the ECOHAB, MERHAB, and PCMHAB competitive grant programs. HR 2484 does not specify that EPA use those grant programs, as we previously requested. However, it does specify that the Agency use a “substantial portion of funds appropriated” for extramural research, and that the Agency conduct research on the ecology of freshwater HABs, monitoring and event response, and mitigation and control. We will continue to request that the Senate bill specify that the EPA use much of the funding in the existing NOAA grant programs, and not for watershed management.

If enacted with the watershed management exclusion, HABHRCA will move the Agency toward complementing watershed management with water-body management. Other than reducing nutrient inputs from point sources, EPA eutrophication policy has focused exclusively on watershed management for over three decades, expending about $5 B per year, while eutorphication increased at an alarming rate. The Agency’s National Lake Assessments indicate eutrophication and hypereutorphication of U.S. lakes and reservoirs increased from 10-20% in 1972 to slightly more than 50% in 2009. The EPA also reports that 66% of river and stream miles are now impaired due to excessive nutrients, pathogens, or toxic substances. Water-body management strategies and technologies to suppress HABs, remove nutrients, and otherwise provide near-term improvements in water quality can reverse the trends of increasing eutrophication, and impairment. The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1977 (i.e., Clean Water Act, CWA) requires freshwater bodies to be listed as impaired (Section 303(d)) when they are unable to support their designated uses such as swimming, fishing, and drinking source waters. Water bodies impaired due to excessive nutrients are typically delisted when total-maximum-daily loads (TMDLs) and watershed management plans are developed, even before water quality improves. However, they also can be delisted when water quality is improved so that designated uses can be met, obviating the need for TMDL development. HABHRCA 2011 and EPA’s participation in the existing NOAA grant programs potentially will stimulate further advances in water-body management strategies and technologies that improve water quality in the near term, lower the overall cost of water management, and help ensure that the U.S. has a sustainable supply of useable freshwater.

Two other bills also could impact HAB research and control efforts.

  1. The House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies advanced an appropriations (i.e., funding to be received) bill for 2012 that provides $11 M for NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR) that funds ECOHAB, MERHAB, PCMHAB, and other programs, such as those for hypoxia. Previous appropriations increased from $18 M to 21 M per year in recent years. Such a large reduction in appropriations would likely mean that no new research grants would be awarded in 2012. The funds would be needed to continue previously awarded projects, and may be insufficient to cover all of those. NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Sciences (NCCOS), that administers CSCOR and other programs and activities, also took a large appropriation decrease in this bill.
  2. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved HR 2018, the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2012. This bill undermines important safeguards provided by the CWA. The bill heavily shifts the balance of power between the states and EPA to the states. According to EPA’s “Technical Assessment H.R. 2018”, “The bill would prevent EPA from providing its views on whether a proposed project that pollutes or even destroys lakes, streams, or wetlands would violate CWA standards.” The bill seems to have arisen in large part from a Florida lawsuit against EPA, and joined by other states, that seeks to eliminate the Clean Water Act authority of EPA to require numeric standards for nutrient inputs to water that cause eutrophication and HABs. Ironically, the Agency only developed nitrogen and phosphorus numeric standards for Florida when sued by the Florida Wildlife Federation after the state failed to develop the standards themselves. This occurred as Florida’s river and stream miles impaired by nutrients increased from 1,000 miles in 2008 to 1,918 miles currently, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The FDEP also reports that 378,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Florida are impaired by nutrients.

 

These events clearly indicate that this is a difficult political and economic time in which to advance legislation for improved HAB research and control. We plan to continue working with Congressional offices for improvements in authorization and appropriation levels. We are not asking for your assistance through a call for action in this Email, but may do so in the near future. Dr. Anderson sent an Email update to some of you yesterday. Dr. Anderson’s letter can be obtained by Emailing Judy Kleindinst.

We will soon post relevant documents on our website - http://www.HABlegislation.com. This website also will enable you to easily phone or send letters to legislators when a call for action is issued.

The bills can be obtained form http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php, and updates on HR 2484 and the SS&T Committee from http://science.house.gov/legislation.

This email list will be used only infrequently. The addresses are in the blind copy address field to ensure that the list will not be used for other purposes.

The effort to reauthorize HABHRCA and the views expressed here are personal and not those of any organization.

Thank you for supporting our effort to help bring about improvements in HAB research and control, and to ensure a sustainable supply of useable water.