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Establishing the Task Force on Ocean Policy

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Location: Washington, DC


ESTABLISHING THE TASK FORCE ON OCEAN POLICY -- (House of Representatives - December 14, 2005)

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Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from California for yielding me this time, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, in 2003 the Pew Ocean Policy Commission put out a comprehensive report telling us that our oceans were in serious trouble. The Republican leadership quickly ignored the report, saying they wanted to wait for the results of the congressionally appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. And lo and behold, last September that commission came to the same basic conclusion: that our oceans are in peril from degraded waters, compromised resources, and conflicts between man and nature, and that immediate action is needed. They laid out some pretty pointed recommendations for Congress, and I would like to show this book, which is their recommendations. Over 500 pages at a cost of $10 million. It took them 3 years. They did a comprehensive report at a cost of $10 million.

Well over a year has gone by and still the House Republican leadership has sat on its hands and done virtually nothing for our oceans. At the end of 2004, the Fisheries and Oceans Subcommittee, on which I am the ranking member, held exactly one hearing on the U.S. Ocean Commission's recommendation. This year our subcommittee and the full Resources Committee have done nothing to comprehensively consider or address the commission's recommendations despite my repeated requests.

What we have done instead is to hold a random assortment of hearings on a few areas that are mentioned in the commission's report, but without getting into any of the commission's recommendations. We seem to be highlighting the status quo rather than using the commission's recommendations to move forward.

Now, today in the face of the Republicans' consistent refusal to comprehensively address ocean issues, we are now handed the emptiest of promises that this oceans task force would mean real progress in dealing with the commission's recommendations. We are not going to fall for that, Mr. Speaker. Democrats are going to oppose this task force because it does nothing. Its task will literally be to write a report on a report that itself is already quite prescriptive in its instructions to Congress.

We don't need to study what is wrong with the oceans. We don't need more reports. What we need now is action, real action, not this task force.

I would point out that the resolution says we are going to spend $400,000, that is on top of the $10 million that the U.S. Oceans Commission has already spent. That is taxpayer dollars. That does not count the Pew Commission. That, I think, was mostly private funds. And this is at a time when I keep hearing from the House Republican leadership about how we do not have any money and we have to cut expenses and we do not want to waste our money. Well, why are we wasting another $400,000 in taxpayers' money on a task force that does not even have any legislative responsibility?

I listened to Mr. Hastings, who sponsored this resolution. He said that there is no legislative jurisdiction in this task force. And I have heard my colleague, whom I respect greatly, the gentleman from Maryland. He is my chairman and I respect him greatly, but he goes on to say that there are so many committees that have jurisdiction over this that we don't have the time to deal with it.

Let me tell you, the House Republican leadership has no problem even ignoring committees and writing a lot of legislation in the Rules Committee when they want to get something done. I respect my colleague, but don't tell me that this Republican leadership needs another task force to write a bill, because I have seen bills written in the Rules Committee and come to the floor directly without even going to committee. I just don't buy it.

The truth is the real obstructionists are the Republican leaders and the Republicans on the Resources Committee, not all, but most, who have refused to allow a comprehensive consideration of major ocean issues this entire year. And I mean not just haphazard hearings, but actually doing something that is meaningful.

The majority proposes to ignore this issue for another 6 months by creating a task force that has no legislative authority and comes with no guarantee that we will be any closer to serious action than before we started.

I want to say that my Democratic colleagues have specific recommendations that they have put in legislative form, and some of them are here on the floor. The gentleman from California (Mr. Farr) has put together the Oceans 21 bill that has most of the government's issues that come out of the U.S. Commission report.

He is a cochair of the Oceans Caucus. The gentleman from Maine (Mr. Allen) has put forward the Fishing Quota Standards Acts, again adopting a lot of these recommendations. We also have the reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act.

Democrats have been out there with legislation that we would like to move through committee that adopt the recommendations of the U.S. Oceans Commission's report. We have alternatives. We do not need another task force.

And I would point out over and over again I am getting very frustrated, and it may be obvious, with the fact that there is no action on the Republican side. The oceans are a tremendous resource for this Nation. The fishermen, the beach-goers, the coastal business owners in my district, they know this. They expect us to be working on problems facing our oceans. They would be quite disappointed to hear that the House leadership continues to ignore these problems and instead is choosing to avoid real action by studying this problem for another year.

Again, the Pew Commission, U.S. Oceans Commission, they have sounded an alarm; and it is time to do something to save our oceans and what is in our oceans. Let us reject this unnecessary task force and get down to some real work.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 30 seconds.

Mr. Speaker, as one point of clarification regarding the claim made by the gentleman, our chairman, that no select committee was formed to consider the Stratton Commission recommendations, I believe that the gentleman from Maryland was in fact wrong on that. The Senate specifically established a National Ocean Policy Study in the Commerce Committee for that purpose.

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Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.

Mr. Speaker, again, I think it is very important that we vote no on this resolution. Essentially, it is going to accomplish nothing. I said before that, when Mr. Hastings, who is the sponsor, first spoke earlier today, he said that the task force will have no legislative jurisdiction. If you read section 3, Jurisdiction, under the resolution, it specifically says: The task force may develop recommendations and report to the House on the final report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy making recommendations for a national oceans policy entitled, An Ocean Blueprint For the 21st Century.

So, again, it says in the resolution, this is nothing but a report on another report which is already 500 pages, and $10 million of taxpayers' money has been spent on it. Why should we spend another $400,000 to come up with another report on the report with no legislative action? My democratic colleague Mr. Farr says he has a bill, Oceans-21. He is the co-chair of the Oceans Caucus, bipartisan legislation. He asked the gentleman from Maryland, when is there going to be a hearing on that? No answer. When is it going to be reported out? No answer. Why? Because this Republican Congress does not want to take any action on the ocean commission's recommendations. They just want to do another study, another report, another 6-month delay, another $400,000, $500,000 spent. It is ridiculous. We had the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Woolsey) she said, why isn't her bill being reported?

Now, I know my colleague from Maryland said, Well, we can't do this because this goes across so many committees' jurisdictions. That is really not a legitimate argument.

The bottom line is that this House Republican leadership has taken bills, as I said many times, written them in the Rules Committee. The notion that they cannot get their act together and report out some of these bills, it just does not make any sense. I think that what we are seeing here is a delaying tactic. If you think about it, once this gets started, another 6 months, we will be halfway into the last year of this Congress, and we will basically see absolutely nothing happen. The only way that we are going to see action on the Ocean Commission's recommendations, the only way that we are going to see anything happen here is if we eliminate this task force and we demand and build pressure on the Republican leadership to report out legislation that has already been introduced that would enact the U.S. ocean commission's report. That is the main reason I believe why we must vote no on this legislation. It will accomplish nothing. It is simply another delay.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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