H.R. 3650: Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2009

H.R. 3650

Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2009

Date
March 9, 2010 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Sarah Makin

Floor Situation

H.R. 3650 is expected to be considered on the floor of the House on Friday, March 12, 2010, under a structured rule.  The rule adopts an amendment in the nature of a substitute and makes in order one Republican amendment and one Republican Motion to Recommit.  The legislation was introduced by Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) on September 25, 2009, and failed to pass the House under suspension of the rules on March 9, 2010.

 

Bill Summary

H.R. 3650 would amend the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998 to require the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere to use the Inter-Agency Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia to establish a National Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Program.  The bill would require that the new program: develop and promote a national strategy to address and respond to marine and freshwater harmful algal bloom and hypoxia events; coordinate federal and State efforts that address such events; identify additional research, development, and demonstration needs and priorities; coordinate an education program that integrates and augments existing programs; and provide assistance to regional, State, tribal and local efforts to develop strategies for addressing harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.

H.R. 3650 directs the Under Secretary to work cooperatively to avoid duplication of efforts with other agencies and work jointly with the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency with respect to the freshwater aspects of the Program.

The bill directs the Under Secretary, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to maintain and enhance: the Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms Program; the Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms Program; the Northern Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems and Hypoxia Assessment Program; the Coastal Hypoxia Research Program; and the Prevention, Control, and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms Program. H.R. 3650 also directs the Under Secretary to establish a new event response program and infrastructure program.

The bill requires the Under Secretary submit to Congress an action strategy that identifies the specific activities to be carried out by the program, the timeline for carrying out such activities, and the roles and responsibilities of each federal agency in carrying out program activities.  The action strategy must be published in the Federal Register.

H.R. 3650 would require the Under Secretary to: oversee the development and implementation of regional research and action plans for addressing harmful algal bloom and hypoxia and identify the appropriate regions and sub-regions to be addressed by each plan; ensure that such plans are completed no later than 24 months after enactment and updated every five years thereafter; transmit to Congress a summary of such plans, a description of activities taken to implement the plans, and federal funding provided to implement the plans; and coordinate and consult with specified entities and individuals in developing the plans.

The bill would require the Administrator, through the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, to complete and transmit to the Congress and the President, within 12 months, a report on progress made toward attaining the coastal goal of the 2008 Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on June 16, 2008; and complete and transmit to Congress and the President every two years a progress report on attaining such goal.

H.R. 3650 would require the Task Force to: complete and submit to Congress and the President, within one year, an assessment of hypoxia in the coastal and estuarine waters of the Pacific Northwest; develop and submit to Congress, within two years, a plan for reducing, mitigating, and controlling hypoxia in the coastal and estuarine waters of the Pacific Northwest; and publish a summary of the proposed plan in the Federal Register at least 90 days before its final submission to Congress.

The bill authorizes appropriations for $41 million for each Fiscal year through 2014 to carry out the new programs and duties.

Background

According to a CRS report, an adequate level of dissolved oxygen is necessary to support most forms of aquatic life.  While very low levels of dissolved oxygen (hypoxia) can be natural, especially in deep ocean basins and fjords, hypoxia in coastal waters is mostly the result of human activities that have modified landscapes or increased nutrients entering these waters. Hypoxic areas are more widespread during the summer, when algal blooms stimulated by spring runoff decompose to diminish oxygen.  Such hypoxic areas may drive out or kill animal life, and usually dissipate by winter.  In many places where hypoxia has occurred previously, it is now more severe and longer lasting; in others where hypoxia did not exist historically, it now does, and these areas are becoming more prevalent.

The largest hypoxic area affecting the United States is in the northern Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi River, but there are others as well.  Most U.S. coastal estuaries and many developed near shore areas suffer from varying degrees of hypoxia, causing various environmental damages.  Research has been conducted to better identify the human activities that affect the intensity and duration of, as well as the area affected by, hypoxic events, and to begin formulating control strategies.

In 1997, Congress directed the U.S. Geological Survey to give priority attention to hypoxia in the FY 1999 budget (through the FY1998 Department of the Interior appropriations).  Near the end of the 105th Congress, provisions of the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998 were incorporated into the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1998.  The Coast Guard Authorization Act authorized appropriations through NOAA to conduct research, monitoring, education, and management activities for the prevention, reduction, and control of hypoxia, harmful algal blooms, Pfiesteria, and other aquatic toxins.  In 2004, Title I of P.L. 108-456, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Amendments Act of 2004, expanded this authority and reauthorized appropriations through FY 2008.

Cost

According to CBO, assuming appropriation of the authorized amounts, CBO estimates that implementing the legislation would cost $153 million over the 2010-2014 period and $22 million after 2014.  Enacting the legislation would not affect direct spending or revenues.

Amendments

1.     Rep. Flake (R-AZ):  The amendment would prohibit earmarking the funds authorized for appropriation under the bill.