President Signs PROSWIFT Space Weather Bill, But With Caveats

President Signs PROSWIFT Space Weather Bill, But With Caveats

President Trump signed the PROSWIFT space weather bill into law on October 21, but an accompanying signing statement expressed a number of caveats. Not only does he consider certain sections to be a limitation on his discretion to conduct foreign affairs, but he objects to what he calls the bill’s failure to address the resilience of national security assets or critical infrastructure.

Presidents can veto legislation if they totally disagree with something that passes Congress, but if the differences are less severe, they can sign a bill into law and add a “signing statement” explaining how they plan to interpret the law and work to make improvements.  He chose the latter course in this case.

Five years in the making, the Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow (PROSWIFT) Act, S. 881, passed the Senate on July 27 and the House on September 16.  It was presented to the President for signature on October 9.

In signing it last night, Trump said certain provisions “while generally unobjectionable as a matter of policy, could limit my discretion under Article II of the Constitution to conduct the Nation’s foreign affairs.  These include applicable parts of section 2(a) and 51 U.S.C. 60601(c)(3) and 60603(c), as added by section 2(b).  My Administration will treat these limitations as advisory and non-binding.”

He went on to express concern that the bill does not deal with space weather’s potential effect on national security and critical infrastructure.

Space weather refers to ejections from the Sun — Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) and solar wind — that can overload systems on Earth and in orbit that are critical to daily life, such as the electric grid or communications and navigation satellites.

“Without ensuring the resilience of these assets, our Nation will remain vulnerable to the effects of space weather, regardless of how accurate forecasting becomes.  I look forward to working with the Congress to improve the resilience of national security assets and critical infrastructure to space weather.” — President Trump

Sen. Gary Peter (D-Michigan)

Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) have been pushing the legislation since 2016, but it encountered one obstacle after another.  One was the fact that the Senate bill contained provisions addressing national security and critical infrastructure, topics that resulted in multiple committee referrals in the House, hindering progress. The most recent House bill (H.R. 5260), from which the name PROSWIFT is taken, was co-sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Mo Brooks (R-AL). In addition to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on which both serve, it was referred to the House Armed Services Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee.

In the end, the final bill removed the language that held up prior efforts, but nevertheless assigns roles and responsibilities to agencies involved in space weather research and forecasting and ensures coordination within the government to better predict severe space weather events and mitigate their impact. That includes the Department of Defense.

In a statement today, Peters praised the outcome.

“We were able to produce a bipartisan and bicameral compromise with the PROSWIFT Act that establishes a structure at the federal level to bring all federal agencies together to deal with the threats from space weather—including threats to our critical infrastructure and national security—two areas I focused on when I first introduced this bipartisan legislation.”  — Sen. Gary Peters

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado)

Peters and Gardner issued a joint press release today applauding the bill’s enactment.

Peters said while “we cannot predict when they will happen, space weather events pose a unique and significant challenge to our national security, economy and technological infrastructure. We simply cannot afford to be caught flat-footed, and I am pleased that this bipartisan bill has been signed into law.”

Gardner added that he had spent years working with Peters on the legislation and is “proud to see our bipartisan bill signed into law to help bolster our country’s ability to predict and address these events.”

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