Ocean Laws: 2020 in Review

Updated: Apr 2

2020 was unprecedented in a lot of ways - and this includes the flurry of ocean and environment-related bills becoming law as we closed out the year and the 116th Congress.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of bills we tracked this year that have (or are imminently expected to) become law:

  • H.R. 133, the Omnironabus (as we call it) which includes all 12 appropriations bills, COVID relief, the energy package, and the Water Resources Development Act. See previous ESP Advisors update, or this document for a full ocean policy-related summary.

  • H.R. 6395, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which includes language supporting the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP), Jones Act clarification for offshore wind, and provisions aimed at addressing IUU fishing globally.

  • H.R. 1957, the Great American Outdoors Act, which provides $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling for a host of conservation projects around the country.

  • S. 914, Coordinated Ocean Observations and Research Act of 2020, which reauthorizes through FY2024 and revises the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System (IOOS), as well as new tools and forecasts to improve safety, enhance the economy, and protect the environment.

  • S. 910, The National Sea Grant College Program Amendments Act of 2020, which reauthorizes the Sea Grant program for five more years and strengthens the Knauss Fellowship program.

  • S. 1982, Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, the second of two bipartisan bills aimed at addressing marine debris nationally and globally.

  • S. 1069, The Digital Coast Act, which provides statutory authority for NOAA’s Digital Coast Program that provides data, tools, and training that communities use to manage their coastal resources.

  • S. 3051, America’s Conservation Act, reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and authorizes $1.1 billion in conservation programs, including significant investments in the Chesapeake Bay and wetlands conservation.

  • S. 2981, NOAA Corps Amendments Act, which would revise certain provisions related to the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, especially workforce issues.

  • (EDIT - Vetoed by the President) S. 906, The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, the bill directs the Secretary of Commerce to conduct a transition program to facilitate the phase out of large-scale driftnet fishing and to promote the adoption of alternative fishing practices that minimize the incidental catch of living marine resources.

  • S. 1342, Great Lakes Environmental Sensitivity Index, which would require NOAA to periodically update the environmental sensitivity products for the Great Lakes.

  • S. 3418, the STORM Act, a bill to allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide states with grants to prepare for natural disasters.

  • S. 881, the Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve Forecasting of Tomorrow (PROSWIFT) Act, which includes provisions to improve the ability for the U.S. to forecast space weather events and mitigate their effects.

  • S. 2730, the Drone Advisory Committee for the 21st Century Act, which requires the FAA to broaden representation on its Drone Advisory Committee.


Looking ahead at 2021

With Biden in the White House, a slim Democratic majority in the House, and …well we’re not quite sure yet in the Senate, 2021 is sure to keep all of us on our toes.


Bills and federal policy we’re watching in 2021 include:

  • Ocean exploration bills in the House and Senate and continuing efforts at NOAA and the White House

  • The Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act and the smaller pieces of it that will likely be broken off to pass on their own or be achieved through Executive Order

  • The Bolstering Long-Term Understanding and Exploration of the Great Lakes, Oceans, Bays, and Estuaries (BLUE GLOBE) Act

  • The Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act

  • Magnuson-Stevens Act Reauthorization

  • Climate and energy legislation (expecting them to come fast and furious)

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