One of Ocean Conservancy’s goals each year is to help ensure that our nation’s premier ocean agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is appropriately funded in the federal budget. This budget process starts each summer in the House of Representatives, and Congress is supposed to approve a budget before the start of the fiscal year each Oct. 1. Unfortunately, often Congress has not passed proper funding until well after the fiscal year has begun, which causes NOAA trouble as it makes work plans.
This July, the House of Representatives marked up their proposed budget for next fiscal year, and Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) followed up a few weeks later with numbers for the Senate to negotiate. Ocean Conservancy applauds both the House and the Senate for being ready to invest in the infrastructure NOAA needs to help coastal and Great Lakes communities, as well as nationally important industries situated in these areas, build back from the damage of the ongoing pandemic, prepare for an uncertain climate future and build natural and economic resilience in ways that are just and equitable for everyone in the United States.
But there are tremendous hurdles to deal with on appropriations throughout the lengthy budgeting process, and NOAA—and Ocean Conservancy—need your help to make sure these investments in our shoreline communities are not cut from the budget.
The federal budget for the current year—including NOAA appropriations—was not passed until March 9, almost halfway through the fiscal year. The 2022 budget fell short of the tools and resources NOAA needed to carry out its plans for the year.
A part of that need, especially after the delays and the budgetary uncertainty, was a positive and firm baseline to build from in the future. That future can be, and should be, now. Given how long it took to approve funding last time, we’re now—again—well into budget season for the upcoming fiscal year. Not long after the 2022 package was passed, the Biden-Harris administration released their budget blueprint. The significant funding levels the administration proposed indicate that the administration is ready to build investments in NOAA and our ocean, Great Lakes and coastal communities.
So, where did the House and Senate land for Fiscal Year 2023, and how do they compare?
Both the House and Senate would give slightly more overall funding than the administration to NOAA operations, although the proposals align in many ways. The House proposal has focused more on funding local and regional efforts to address the effects of climate change already observed on the ground and in the water, such as ocean acidification. Chair Leahy saw that focus on money and effort going to the states and doubled down. Many of these efforts go through state Sea Grant programs, which provide vital research and support for local businesses. The National Estuarine Research Reserve System, which similarly supports local research by protecting state and community-determined wetlands for study, is also supported. Unfortunately, one area that the House and Senate bills align—and the Senate again doubles down—is underinvestment in tackling climate change impacts on fish and fisheries management. We urge appropriators to allocate robust funding for climate-ready fisheries in the final budget.
We have three proposals, each ready to really build on this year’s baseline. Unfortunately, however, that doesn’t mean the final numbers will look as good or that full-year funding packages will pass in time. With midterm elections approaching this fall, representatives and senators may be spending less time legislating.
There is still enough time to fund the government, and every voice makes a difference, especially in an election year. Weigh in with your members of Congress now to make sure that the House’s proposal to invest in NOAA and our ocean, coastal and Great Lakes communities inspires the Senate to do the same.