A bill that could save a Sandy Hook ocean laboratory from closing was approved Thursday by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee.
But the James J. Howard Marine Sciences Laboratory is not out of danger. Congress is unlikely to address a final budget until after the November election.
"We've taken an important step to keep the doors of the Howard lab open and its successful research operation up and running," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.).
Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) said, "This lab is essential to supporting our fishing industry and fishing jobs, maintaining the health of our oceans, and understanding the impacts of climate change."
The 50-year-old lab sits on a barrier peninsula in Monmouth County that sticks out toward New York City. Its research includes climate change and the effect of pollution on fish. It has nearly 50 employees, 11 seawater labs, a 32,000-gallon aquarium, and a 49-foot research vessel.
President Obama's proposed budget eliminates the lab's funding. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates the lab, said the site was too expensive. NOAA leases the building from the state for $2.8 million a year.
New Jersey's senators urged the Appropriations Committee to restore the lab funding and implored Obama to ensure the lab stays in New Jersey. Rep. Frank Pallone (D., N.J.) has been working with Gov. Christie to see whether NOAA and the state can renegotiate the lease, which ends in 2013.
Lautenberg, who serves on a subcommittee that produces the bill that funds NOAA, inserted language into the bill Tuesday that would keep the lab open. That bill, along with 11 others, passed the full Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday on a vote of 28-1.
The bill will go to the full Senate, but it's unclear when the chamber will schedule a vote. The House has not yet dealt with the matter.