By Richard Gaines
---- — Three Massachusetts congressmen — John Tierney,William Keating and Ed Markey — are prepared to petition the House Rules Committee today to reinstate in the Superstorm Sandy supplemental appropriation bill more than $100 million for fisheries disaster relief stripped out by the Republican leadership.
While cutting the fisheries relief, Republican leadership amendments introduced nearly half a billion in spending on a wide range of programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, much of it unrelated to the super storm or of a non-emergency nature.
For three days, the authors of the amendments — House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Rep. Rodney Freilinghuysen of New Jersey — have refused to respond to multiple inquiries into the reasoning behind the decision to give huge sums to NOAA for a variety of purposes while virtually eliminating relief for fishermen in Massachusetts and six other states where socio-economic “disasters” have been recognized by the Commerce Department.
The U.S. imports more than 90 percent of its seafood, with China making the largest contribution to a $10 billion industry trade deficit in a $60 billion domestic fishing industry.
NOAA also failed to respond to inquiries about the Republican alternative to the $60.4 billion Sandy supplemental approved by the Senate before the end of the 112th Congress on Jan. 3.
More than half the $476 million in NOAA spending is for programs unrelated to Hurricane Sandy, and much of the rest would be used for post-Sandy research.
For example, the House Rules Committee has posted a pair of amendments to the Sandy supplemental that reduce fisheries disaster spending authorized by the Senate from $150 to $5 million, but authorizes $50 million for “mapping, charting, geodesy services and marine debris surveys for coastal states affected by Hurricane Sandy.”
”As currently written, the house disaster relief legislation places a greater importance on marine debris than it does on our community, fishery jobs, and fishermen,” state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester said Thursday. “I am deeply disappointed that the U.S. House leaders view our community and our fishermen so poorly.
”I am further disappointed that, in a time of desperately needed jobs, House leaders in Washington don’t view the fishing industry as an investment in working class jobs and a platform for further development in our marine economy,” she added. “I applaud the efforts of the Mass. delegation to demand that our people and our community is appropriately valued, strengthened and restored.”
Tierney and Keating each released similar amendment outlines to the Times late Thursday, keyed to shifting into fisheries disaster relief $116 million that the Freilinghuysen amendment would give to NOAA to plan a “weather satellite data mitigation gap reserve fund,” which would help plan for the replacement of weather satellites in 2017.
The Commerce Department Inspector General’s Office has been auditing the program, and, in September, concluded that NOAA had not yet clearly defined the program, its cost or schedule.
“NOAA does not have a policy that ensures consistent and reliable cost estimating for its major system acquisitions,” the audit concluded.
“My amendment aims to provide our fishermen with the $150 million in disaster assistance that the Senate approved on a bipartisan basis,” said Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann.”The amendment’s cost is fully offset by eliminating the ‘weather satellite data mitigation gap reserve fund’ and by responsibly reducing amounts provided to other NOAA programs that are not specified for Hurricane Sandy relief.
“Funds for these programs could be provided in the months ahead through the annual appropriations process,” said in an email to the Times. “Right now, it is more urgent for Congress to help our fishing community in Massachusetts and the other affected states.”
Keating’s proposed amendment would also offset the weather satellite spending, but did not also propose shifting other funding into fisheries disaster relief.
“We are approaching this from every conceivable angle,” said a spokeswoman for Keating.
“Our fishermen from coast to coast are up against factors outside of their control,” he wrote in a letter to colleagues. “The fishing industry is deeply rooted in the history and economies of coastal communities throughout our nation and is now facing the most severe reductions in the quantity of catch beginning in this fishing year. Congress is the only option that this historic industry and the families that rely on it have to survive. I hope that you will join me in fighting for them- just like we fought for other historic industries – from the automobile industry to our nation’s farmers.
“The weather satellite program should be addressed in comprehensive legislation that provides the full resources it needs,” Keating said.
“Mr. Markey will be filing one tomorrow, working out last-minute issues,” according to an email from a spokesman for Markey of Malden, the senior member of the Massachusetts delegation. “Markey, Keating and Tierney offices are all talking. This is a multi-pronged strategy to box in House Republicans and force a vote to restore this disaster money for Massachusetts fishermen, and fishermen in other hard-hit areas of the country.”
The Republican House leadership has invited amendments through 4 p.m. today to the package of Sandy relief amendments filed Tuesday. Those amendents together would roughly match the Senate appropriation for Sandy relief but reduce from $150 million to $5 million the amount in the Senate bill for fisheries disasters primarily that of the Northeast groundfishery, which was declared by the acting commerce secretary in September, based on economic hardships made of government policies and ecological anomalies.
The Rules Committee is scheduled to meet Monday to decide which amendments qualify for votes in floor action next Tuesday.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.