WI DNR Lakes-L Blog News

Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act (HABHRCA) bill passes the U.S. House

Here is some news about recent actions on HAB legislation. 
As many of you know, our US HAB program is as strong as it is because of congressional support. Over ten years ago, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act (HABHRCA) was passed, giving our National Program much needed visibility and credibility. This type of legislation has a finite lifetime, and thus has to be reauthorized periodically. The latest reauthorization cycle is happening right now, and I am pleased to report that a revised version of the bill has passed the House. At the end of this message, I have appended a short news story about that process, which went fairly smoothly, although there was a worrisome  moment when the bill was first voted on and failed to receive the two-thirds majority  that was needed given the parliamentary procedures used for the vote. A subsequent effort that required only a simple majority passed easily.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Congressman Baird from Washington State who was the sponsor of this bill, and whose staff worked hard with members of our community and with NOAA officials to craft a bill that greatly expands our National Program. At the risk of offending other members who co-sponsored and helped argue for the bill,  I also want to highlight the strong support received from Congressmen Mack (Florida) and Ehlers (Michigan).

 Some highlights of the new bill are that it:

1.  Increases authorization $$ for most programs (i.e., ECOHAB, MERHAB, PCMHAB) and calls them out by name, which is always good.

2.  Adds a freshwater program to be led by EPA (see below)

3.  Adds an Event Response program (as called for in HARRNESS and in the RDDTT Report (see http://www.whoi.edu/redtide/page.do?pid=15075)

4.  Adds an Infrastructure Program (as called for in HARRNESS and in the RDDTT Report (see http://www.whoi.edu/redtide/page.do?pid=15075)

5.  Emphasizes the need for Regional Research and Action Plans (to prioritize research on a regional level with heavy engagement of regional scientists and managers)

6.  Requires NOAA to support a robust program office with more responsibility for interagency coordination, development of Regional Action Plans, Event Response and Infrastructure activities, and multiple (too many) reports to Congress.

7.  Refreshes the GOM hypoxia section to require regular reporting on progress.

The involvement of the EPA is welcome news, as this will support research in many of the freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds, etc. that are not currently covered by NOAA's mandate. Furthermore, we are pleased to have inserted wording into the legislation that requires that EPA participate in our existing HAB programs (ECOHAB, PCMHAB, and MERHAB) as this means their funds will go towards multiple types of research and not just to nutrient control and watershed management, which was the direction that they wished to follow based on their Congressional testimony.
We all must recognize that this is authorizing legislation, which is very different from the appropriations that are needed to actually get money to our program. Nevertheless, it sends an important message to NOAA and other agencies that Congress wishes them to devote resources to these issues. The total authorization is approximately $40 million, of which $7 million is for the EPA's Freshwater HAB Program. Remember that NOAA's funding supports freshwater HAB research in the Great Lakes and in estuaries.  Some of this HABHRCA funding goes toward hypoxia research, but the bulk of it is for HABs and represents a significant enhancement to our program. We don't expect to receive all of these funds at the time of appropriations, yet there is a good chance that additional monies will flow to the program as a result of this bill.

This is all very good news, but we are still less than halfway to where we would like to be. The companion bill needs to pass in the Senate, and then we must fight the appropriations battles once again. The Senate bill has some differences from the House version, but they should be reconciled rather easily in conference. For example, even though the Senate Commerce Committee has no jurisdiction over the EPA and therefore does not have that freshwater program in their bill, they are willing to support EPA involvement in the National Program, as specified in the House version.

At this time, we do not see the need to "call out the troops" for letters and phone calls to your delegations, but we will let you know if and when such an effort is needed. On that topic, it is always a good idea to let your delegations know that this is an important issue for their constituents.  If they voted for the bill, then you might want to thank them.  If they voted against it, you might want to educate them.  For example, one of the most vocal opponents in the House was Congressman Hall from Texas.  His objections were mostly on grounds of increased spending, but I wonder if he would have been opposed if he knew about the severity of the problems caused by Karenia red tides and Dinophysis DSP toxicity on the Gulf coast, and Prymnesium blooms in the lakes and reservoirs of his state.
No matter what the final outcome is, we all owe our thanks to Congressman Baird and his staff, but also to a number of individuals within the US HAB community who spent considerable time briefing Congress, responding to inquiries about wording and policies, and helping to move this process along. Our freshwater colleagues, in particular Ken Hudnell, Wayne Carmichael, and Greg Boyer, have been very active and effective in this regard.  We also need to thank Rob Magnien, Quay Dortch, and their staff, for they also spent huge amounts of time working with congress to make this bill much stronger.

We will keep you informed as this process moves forward.

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