By Laura Szymanski, GSA Science Policy Fellow

As Congress heads into the lame duck session, the period of time following the November elections and prior to when the newly-elected officials take office in January, here is a summary of recent legislation that was passed and a few bills that may pass during the lame duck session.

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) (left) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) (right) discuss the Save Our Seas Act following the bill signing. Photo credit: Office of Sen. Dan Sullivan

Save Our Seas Act:
The President signed the bipartisan Save Our Seas (SOS) Act, S. 3508, into law on 11 October 2018. The bill amends the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Act and reauthorizes NOAA’s Marine Debris Program for 5 years.  This bill, sponsored by Sen. Sullivan (R-AK) and co-sponsored by Senators Whitehouse (D-RI), Inhofe (R-OK), and Nelson (D-FL), aims to address ocean pollution, specifically plastics and microplastics.  This law will encourage the federal government to reach international agreements with countries to reduce the amount of trash contributing to ocean debris and allow NOAA to declare severe marine events, which will allow for funds to go to states for cleanup and response efforts.  A Senate hearing on ocean pollution was held two weeks prior to the signing of this bill and on the day the SOS Act passed the Senate by unanimous consent.  During this hearing, the Senators and the 4 witnesses discussed sources of microplastics to oceans; the harm microplastics pose to human health, animals, and the environment; further ideas for addressing existing microplastics in our oceans; and how to prevent future microplastics ocean pollution.  With the strong bipartisan support to address ocean pollution, Senator Whitehouse suggested there may be a follow-up bill, a Save Our Seas Act II, to continue efforts.

Department of Energy (DOE) Research and Innovation Act:
Signed into law on 28 September 2018, the DOE Research and Innovation Act, H.R. 589, previously discussed here, advances energy research collaboration.  This bill provides a comprehensive authorization of DOE science programs and promotes public-private partnerships in energy research to accelerate innovation and commercialization of research.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Act including the Disaster Recovery Reform Act and the Geospatial Data Act:
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Act, H.R. 302, which includes the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA) and the Geospatial Data Act of 2018 (GDA), was signed into law 5 October 2018.  While the bulk of this bill relates to airline regulations and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), it contains two geoscience-related bills.  Among its many provisions, the DRRA increases federal spending for pre-disaster mitigation by allowing up to 6% of certain spending under the Federal Emergency Management Association’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief fund to go to pre-disaster mitigation.  This bill comes after several studies, including the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves Study, found that “mitigation funding can save the nation $6 in future disaster costs, for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation”.  The second act passed as a part of the FAA bill was the Geospatial Data Act, which authorizes an interagency committee, the Federal Geographic Data Committee, within the Department of the Interior to review policies and set and implement standards in relation to geospatial data.  As different federal agencies may require the same or similar geospatial data, this Committee will facilitate the collection and distribution of data to minimize duplicating data efforts, which will reduce costs.  This Act was supported by the American Association of Geographers, the Cartography and Geographic Information Society, and the GIS Certification Institute.

Bills that may pass during the lame duck:
Several geoscience-related bills may still pass during the lame duck session during this Congress.  The National Geologic Mapping Act Reauthorization Act, H.R. 4033/ S. 1787, passed the House on 13 November 2018, and is expected to be taken up in the Senate soon, after having passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on 02 October 2018.  This bill amends and reauthorizes the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program (NCGMP) through 2023, which funds geologic maps for planning and natural hazard mitigation. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Reauthorization Act of 2018, H.R. 6650/ S. 1768, has passed the Senate and is expected to be voted on by the House in the coming weeks.  This bill would amend and reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction program through 2023, which is an interagency cooperative effort to improve the understanding of earthquakes and reduce the negative effects by improving resilience.  Additionally, the National Landslide Preparedness Act, H.R. 1675/ S. 698, has passed the House Natural Resources Committee and was granted an extension for further consideration by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on 16 November 2018.  This bill is similar to the NEHRP, but for landslides, and would establish an Interagency Coordinating Committee to oversee a national landslide hazards reduction program to further understanding of landslides and mitigate landslide related disasters.  As any of these bills are passed, Speaking of Geoscience will have further updates.