CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 860 on Tuesday, September 22, 2009, under suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage. H.R. 860 was introduced on February 4, 2009, by Del. Bordallo (D-GU) and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, which held a mark-up and reported the bill, as amended, by voice vote on April 22, 2009.
H.R. 860 would authorize the appropriation of $214 million over five years to authorize and expand existing federal coral reef conservation programs established by the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 and create new grant programs. In addition, the bill would make it illegal to destroy, cause the loss of, or injure any coral reef that is in the jurisdiction of the U.S. The specific provisions of the legislation can be found below.
Expansion of the Coral Reef Conservation Program: The legislation expands the criteria for the types of projects that may receive grant funding through the program. The legislation would allow funding for "emerging priorities or threats, including international and territorial priorities, or threats identified by the Administrator in consultation with the United States Coral Reef Task Force."
Emergency Response Actions: The bill expands current law to allow the NOAA Administrator to authorize action to minimize damage to coral reefs caused by vessels, derelict fishing gear, and unforeseen or disaster-related circumstances. This authority includes vessel removal and emergency re-stabilization of vessels and coral reefs.
The bill directs the NOAA to partner with other appropriate federal agencies in its emergency response efforts. The bill includes authority for the other federal agencies to utilize their operations funds to assist the NOAA as well as authority for the NOAA to reimburse agencies for assistance.
Note: Under current law, the Administrator can make grants to State, local, and territorial governments to address unforeseen or disaster-related circumstances related to coral reefs or their ecosystems.
Liability for Damages to Coral Reefs: The bill makes it illegal to destroy, cause the loss of, or injure any coral reef that is in the jurisdiction of the U.S and gives the Secretaries of Interior and Commerce the authority to recover costs for coral reef damages in U.S. waters.
National Program: H.R. 860 expands the scope of the Coral Reef Conservation program to develop scientific information on the condition of coral reef ecosystems and the threat posed to them by climate change, as well as to encourage federal action to ensure the continued availability of healthy coral reefs.
Authorized Activities to Conserve Coral Reefs and Coral Reef Ecosystems: The bill adds cooperative research and actions designed to minimize reef damage from vessels to the list of activities authorized for funding under the program. It also specifies that academic institutions play a role in coral reef conservation and research.
Reporting Requirements: Under the measure, NOAA must submit a report to Congress every five years describing the funds used and activities undertaken to implement the coral reef conservation program as well as assess the condition of U.S. coral reefs.
Community-Based Planning Grants: The bill authorizes $8 million for FY 2010 through FY2014 for a new federal grant program to subsidize community-level development of models and strategies for coral reef conservation. Grants made under this section are exempted from the standard matching requirements of the coral reef conservation program (50 percent). Instead federal funds may not exceed 75 percent of the total cost of the project.
Vessel Grounding Inventory: H.R. 860 allows NOAA to maintain an inventory of all vessel grounding incidents involving coral reefs, including among other items 1) the impact to the reef; 2) vessel and ownership information; and 3) the estimated cost of removal, mitigation, and restoration.
U.S. Coral Reef Task Force: The bill codifies the task force created by President Clinton to lead, coordinate, and strengthen federal actions to better preserve and protect coral reef ecosystems.
Department of the Interior Program: The bill adds authorization for the Secretary of the Interior to participate in coral reef conservation activities by adding express authority and by expanding the definition of "wildlife" in two other fish and wildlife statutes to include "coral reef ecosystems". It also provides new authorization for the Department of the Interior ($5 million per year) and allows the Secretary of the Interior to provide grants and other assistance.
Funding for Marine Facilities, Coral Reef Research, and Coral Reef Institutes: The bill authorizes $1 million for a coral reef research facility at American Samoa Community College and $1 million for coral reef research and protection at the University of Guam. It also authorizes NOAA to support coral reef conservation at universities, local academic institutions, or research centers.
Permits: H.R. 860 allows NOAA to issue permits for bona fide coral reef conservation research and collect fees for the permits. The bill would not require a permit for any activities that are exempt from liability. The amount of the fee would be equal to all costs to NOAA as a result of the activity.
Authorization of Appropriations: The bill authorizes the following amounts to the Secretary of Commerce ($30 million in FY 2010, $32 million in FY 2011, $34 million in FY 2012, and $35 million in FY 2013 and in FY 2014) and to the Secretary of the Interior ($10 million for each fiscal year from 2010 through 2014) to carry out the activities of the coral reef conservation program. In addition, the bill authorizes $8 million for the Community-Based Planning Grants from FY 2010 through FY 2014.
Congress passed and the President signed the Coral Reef Conservation Act (P.L. 106-562) in December 2000. The bill authorized federal funds for the Coral Reef Conservation Program, which is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). According to NOAA, the program functions to preserve, sustain, and restore coral reef ecosystems. The U.S. currently has jurisdiction over 17,000 square kilometers of coral reef ecosystems, most of which are found off in the western Pacific and off the coasts of Florida and Puerto Rico. The Coral Reef Conservation Program provides coordinated funding and activities through 12 federal agencies and seven States. The programs are operated in American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Hawaii, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
According to CBO, H.R. 860 would cost about $200 million over five years to authorize and expand the Coral Reef Conservation Program. In addition, according to CBO, H.R. 860 would impose unfunded private sector mandates by requiring permits for certain coral reef research activities and by making it unlawful to destroy a U.S. coral reef. However, CBO states that "the annual costs of those mandates would fall below the annual thresholds established in UMRA."