CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
H.R. 3644 is expected to be considered on the floor of the House on Friday, March 19, 2010, under a structured rule. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) on September 24, 2009. The House Committee on Natural Resources ordered the bill to be reported by a vote of 22-13 on November 18, 2009.
This Legislative Digest reflects H.R. 3644 as modified by the Rep. Capps Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute provided for by the rule.
The stated purpose of this legislation is to "advance educational literacy, develop public awareness and appreciation of the economic, social, recreational, and environmental benefits of coastal watersheds, and emphasize stewardship of critical coastal and marines resources, including an understanding of how climate change is impacting those resources through the establishment of an Environmental Literacy Grant Program and regional programs under the B-WET Program."
Environmental Literacy Grant Program: The bill requires that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) establish an Environmental Literacy Grant Program. This national competitive grant program would provide financial assistance to expand the adoption of coastal, ocean, Great Lakes, and climate education; build administrative and technical capacity within coastal and watershed communities to enhance their effectiveness; encourage water-dependent and outdoor recreation and learning to promote environmental stewardship; and develop and implement new approaches to coastal, ocean, Great Lakes, and climate education and literacy. Priority consideration would be given to innovative, strategic, high-leverage projects that demonstrate long-term potential.
Additionally, the bill requires that after consultation with appropriate stakeholders and within 180 days of enactment of this Act, the NOAA Administrator must publish program guidelines, including criteria for eligible entities, national priorities, and performance measures. Of amounts made available to implement the program, no less than 80 percent would be used for competitive grants, no more than 10 percent for the Administrator to implement the program, and no less than 10 percent for strategic planning and coordination to foster communication, integration, and evaluation efforts.
B-WET Program: H.R. 3644 provides that the NOAA Administrator shall conduct Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) programs that already exist or are under active consideration for creation. It also authorizes the Administrator to create new regional programs, pursuant to a strategy that identifies regional needs, potential partnerships, a budget for expansion, and potential new regional programs. Priority consideration would be given to the establishment of new programs given to U.S. territories, the Great Lakes States, Alaska, and the mid-Atlantic region.
The bill would provide that each regional program appoints one regional manager who administers and supports the program. Priority consideration shall be given to those programs that promote bay-watershed education throughout the region, build capacity for expanding and strengthening current work, promote professional development and training for educators, and replicate existing proven programs. Priority consideration shall also be given to those projects for which the federal share does not exceed 75 percent and those which are conducted by or benefit any under-served or low-income communities.
H.R. 3644 requires NOAA's Office of Education to work with regional B-WET programs on strategic planning, integration and coordination, evaluation, network-wide communications, selection of new regional program managers, and management, tracking and oversight. Of amounts made available to implement the program, no less than 80 percent of funds would be used to implement regional grant programs activities and no more than 20 percent shall be used by the Administrator to implement the program.
Biennial Report: H.R. 3644 requires the Administrator to report to Congress biennially on the grant programs authorized by the Act.
Authorization of Appropriations: The bill authorizes to be appropriated a total of $80.6 million for the Environmental Literacy Grant Program between Fiscal Years 2011-2015 and a total of $65.1 million for the B-WET Program over Fiscal Years 2011-2015.
Background: Since 2002 and 2005, respectively, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) and Environmental Literacy Grant programs have advanced ocean, atmospheric, and environmental literacy in the U.S. NOAA's B-WET program provides regionally-focused funding through competitive grants to projects which promote "meaningful watershed educational experiences," in which schoolchildren are involved in hands-on investigative or project-oriented learning experiences. There are currently six NOAA B-WET offices: Chesapeake Bay, California, Hawaii, Gulf Coast, New England, and Northwest. Over the program's history, more than $40 million has been used to fund more than 530 B-WET projects across the country.
NOAA's ELG program focuses on creating an environmentally literate public that uses a comprehensive understanding of the role of the oceans, coasts and atmosphere to guide responsible social, environmental, and economic decision-making. Since 2005, 59 competitive awards totaling $25.8 million have been granted through the ELG program, enabling NOAA to partner with a variety of educational and nonprofit organizations.
Both programs were established through the congressional appropriations process, although neither program has been formally codified in law.
CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 3644 as reported by the committee would cost $139 million between 2011-2014, and $48 million after 2014. However, the version of the bill under consideration on the floor now authorizes a total of $145.7 million over Fiscal Years 2011-2014 alone.
Rep. Flake (R-AZ): Would prohibit earmarking in the funds authorized for appropriations in the legislation.