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January 2011 Issue

Senate Passes Bill to Stop Shark Finning in U.S.
The U.S. Senate passed legislation in December to end the practice of shark finning in the United States. The author of the bill, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), said the Shark Conservation Act strengthens existing regulations and closes enforcement loopholes, making shark fin removal illegal.

"Shark finning has fueled massive population declines and irreversible disruption of our oceans," Kerry said. "Finally we've come through with a tough approach to tackle this serious threat to our marine life."

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) had put a Senate hold on the bill for months because of the legislation's $5 million price tag, saying the bill and others like it were for "special interest groups." In response, money was cut from federal fisheries grant programs to pay for the bill.

"This is a tremendous victory in the fight to protect shark populations from depletion and from the abuse they have been suffering at the hands of shark finners," said Fred O'Regan, president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

New Republican Chairs Named For 112th Congress
With the U.S. House of Representatives now controlled by Republicans, new chairs have been named for a number of the key committees that set ocean, technology and science policy in the United States.

In the Committee on Science and Technology, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) was named chairman. As chairman, Hall promised to ensure that money is invested wisely by providing oversight and eliminating wasteful and duplicative programs. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) will become ranking member of the committee.

In the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) was named chair. Subcommittee chairs will be named in January.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) will chair the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, with former ranking Republican Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) serving as chairman emeritus. Upton said he will split the current Energy and Environment Subcommittee jurisdiction into two separate subcommittees: Energy and Power, which will have jurisdiction over energy and Clean Air Act issues, and Environment and Economy, which will focus on environmental regulations and their economic impact.

Rep. Doc. Hastings (R-Wash.), ranking member for the previous Congress, will chair the House Committee on Natural Resources. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.V.) will continue with the committee as ranking member.

Senator Puts Hold on NOAA Chief Scientist Until Obama Administration Officials Testify
The nomination of Dr. Scott Doney as chief scientist for NOAA was blocked on December 9 by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), with promises to continue the U.S. Senate "hold" until key officials from the Obama Administration testify before the Senate Small Business Committee.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, Vitter explained that the hold was in regard to an executive summary in a drilling safety report that was edited by the White House, making it appear that a policy decision included in the executive summary had been under peer review.

"I am uncomfortable confirming a high-level science advisor within your administration while there remain significant outstanding concerns over scientific integrity at federal agencies and the White House," Vitter wrote to Obama.

Vitter requested a full hearing before the committee with attendance by Carol Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change, and Steve Black, counselor to the secretary of the interior.

The Office of Inspector General concluded in November that the Department of the Interior had not violated any rules, but that the wording of the report could have been made more clear.

Doney, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceano?graphic Institution, would fill a position that has been vacant since 1996. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) said in opening statements at the November nomination hearing that approving Doney would be "an important step to maintaining NOAA's status as a top science agency."

DOI Will Maintain Ban on OCS Leasing In Atlantic, Pacific and Eastern GOM
New areas on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) that had been under consideration for oil and gas leasing will continue to be off limits until at least 2017, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced in December.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) said it wishes to focus on reforms to equipment, safety, environmental safeguards and oversight, requiring agency resources to be focused on planning areas that currently have leases for potential future development.

As a result, the area in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico that remains under a congressional moratorium and the Mid and South Atlantic planning areas are no longer under consideration for potential development through 2017, while the Western Gulf of Mexico, Central Gulf of Mexico, the Cook Inlet and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in the Arctic will continue to be considered for potential leasing before 2017.

Lease sales in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico under the 2007 to 2012 program are scheduled to begin in approximately 12 months, after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement completes appropriate environmental analyses that take into account effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, DOI said.

Analyses and public meetings will also take place to help determine if additional lease sales in these areas should proceed as part of the 2012 to 2017 program.

The DOI announcement prompted disappointment from governors and member of Congress who are in favor of oil production in the still off-limit areas, among them Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.). Calling it an "irresponsible and short-sighted decision," McDonnell said the new restrictions represented a "lack of confidence in the entrepreneurial spirit of American industry and its ability to fix the problems experienced in the gulf spill."



2012:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC
2011:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC

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