Senate subcommittee approves funding for NOAA

One more step has been cleared in the pathway for funding and the researchers at the National Weather Service in Norman might be breathing just a little easier.

As E and E news reported, a Senate panel this week approved a $71 billion spending bill that would reject large cuts proposed for NOAA while providing new funds for scientific research and space exploration.

The Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee signed off on $5.3 billion for NOAA, ignoring President Trump’s request to cut the agency’s budget by 18% — to $4.46 billion — for fiscal 2020.

Opponents feared Trump’s proposal would have forced a reduction of 547 civilian positions and the elimination of several popular grant programs, but that won’t be happening.

House appropriators earlier this year set NOAA’s budget at $5.48 billion, which is $54 million above the enacted fiscal 2019 level.

The new money would pay for a variety of NOAA programs, including ocean monitoring, fisheries management, coastal grants, aquaculture research and the agency’s flagship weather satellites.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the bill would pay for better data collection to manage fisheries as fish adapt to changes caused by ocean acidification and warming waters.

“Up in my state, we’re seeing our fisheries kind of move around,” she said.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the panel’s ranking member, said the bill rejected a Trump administration request to cut funding for climate, weather and oceans research by 41%.

Instead, she said, the bill would set the budget for that research at $572 million and maintain popular programs such as Sea Grant, Coastal Zone Management Program grants, the National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund, and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System.

The bill would also give another $755 million to continue construction of NOAA’s three polar weather satellites and $75 million to help pay for a third NOAA ocean survey vessel.

The Senate bill, which would fund the departments of Commerce and Justice, NASA and the National Science Foundation, now faces a vote from the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Under the bill, NASA would receive $22.75 billion, $1.25 billion above the 2019 enacted level, helping fund a plan to return to the moon by 2024, among other things.