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Kilmer: Congress should collaborate with space industry on regulatory issues

Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.). Credit: Port of Tacoma

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee and co-sponsor of space resources legislation that passed last year, said Nov. 17 he wants the government to do a better job collaborating with the space industry on making new regulations that affect the industry’s growth.

Speaking at a Washington Space Business Roundtable luncheon, Kilmer emphasized the need for policymakers to take advantage of the fact that it is dealing with an industry that doesn’t automatically shun regulation.

“You’re very unique,” Kilmer said. “It’s very rare where I sit down with folks from an industry who say we want to plus-up the regulatory bodies who regulate us.”

Kilmer said it is important for government agencies, namely the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Commerce, to get adequate funding to make regulations well suited for the industry. Earlier this year he, along with Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), secured a $1 million increase for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) in a House appropriations bill.

Kilmer said he wanted to continue a cooperative, rather than adversarial, approach to industry regulation. “I think when it comes to our regulatory agencies, there’s an opportunity to have an approach that’s done more with the industry rather than to the industry,” Kilmer said. “My hope is that there is a greater focus on that going forward.”

Kilmer’s interest in the industry is linked to a number of space companies based in his home state, including Blue Origin, Planetary Resources and Vulcan Aerospace. Kilmer co-sponsored legislation, incorporated into the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act signed into law one year ago, which gives U.S. companies rights to resources they obtain from asteroids or other celestial bodies.

In his speech, Kilmer listed several space policy priorities for Congress, including creating a civil authority for space situational awareness (SSA) data. He argued that it doesn’t make sense for the Department of Defense, which currently provides conjunction assessments and other SSA data through the Joint Space Operations Center, to “play space mediator.” He called for having FAA/AST handle this responsibility instead, a position that office itself has been advocating for several months.

Kilmer said he has heard from several companies that export control remains a challenge for them, despite reforms that removed many commercial satellites and related components from the control of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) in 2014.

“We should reconsider regulatory environments, including U.S. export controls, which really affect this industry and the profitability of this industry,” he said.

Kilmer had mixed perceptions of the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump. He said it is a positive that Trump’s administration has so far offered a consistent agenda around trying to empower the commercial sector. “When it comes to those rules, there may be an opportunity for being on the same page,” he said.

However, Kilmer voiced concern about Trump’s desire to cut government spending, and what that could mean for the country’s presence in space.

“Probably the biggest threat when it comes to funding is a scenario where we double down on sequestration or tighten screws on budget caps on discretionary spending,” he said. “You can’t bar the door on being able to have government support for progress on any of those fronts, whether it be education or space launch or anything else, [like] additional funding for regulatory certainty.”

Kilmer also voiced disapproval of plans announced by the House’s Republican leadership Nov. 17 to pass another continuing resolution (CR) in lieu of full-year appropriations bills. The new CR, replacing one that expires Dec, 9, would fund government agencies through next March, and kicks decisions that would otherwise have been made during the Obama administration into Trump’s hands.

“When Congress can’t pass the budget or pass regular appropriations bills, it also has a negative impact on industry,” he said. “I always have a difficult time explaining the inexplicable and am certainly not in a position to defend the indefensible. Congress needs to get back to regular order, and pass budgets and pass appropriations bills.”

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Kilmer: Congress should collaborate with space industry on regulatory issues

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