HOUSE TRANSPORTATION PANEL APPROVES PALLONE'S BEACH PROTECTION ACT
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today approved the Beach Protection Act of 2007, which was originally introduced by U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) in May. The legislation, which requires tough new beach water quality testing and public notification standards so beachgoers are better informed about the safety of their beaches, now goes to the full House for its review.
The Beach Protection Act reauthorizes the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, which was authored by Pallone and U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and signed into law by President Clinton in 2000.
Under the BEACH Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was required to work with states to ensure they used the latest science to sample and test beach waters to protect the public's health. States were also required to notify the public if tests showed water quality standards were violated. The law also helped states set up comprehensive monitoring and notification programs in order to provide up-to-date information on the condition of all public beaches.
The reauthorization legislation approved by the Transportation Committee modified Pallone's legislation through an amendment offered by U.S. Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
For the first time, the legislation mandates EPA develop rapid testing procedures not available today that detect bathing water contamination in six hours or less so that beaches can be closed shortly thereafter. Current water quality monitoring tests only test for bacteria levels and take 24 to 48 hours to produce reliable results, during which time many beachgoers can be unknowingly exposed to harmful pathogens. Pallone's bill would have required states to use the rapid testing methods once they were developed by the federal government, but the bill passed out of Committee today leaves the decision on their use up to the states.
The Committee bill also increases from $30 million to $40 million the amount of grant money available annually to states through 2012, and expands the scope of the grants to also include pollution source tracking and prevention efforts.
"The bill approved today makes significant improvements to current law by investing more in the program, establishing essential rapid water testing methods and allowing funds to be used for tracking pollution," Pallone said. "I have long believed that rapid testing methods are needed so that polluted beaches can be shut down immediately to protect the public health. While I commend the Committee for mandating the EPA develop these testing methods, I had hoped they would require, as my bill does, that states use these new methods. As the bill moves forward, I will try to restore that provision to mandate rapid testing for all beaches."
"New Jersey's beaches are a treasure and must remain clean and safe. Clean water is essential for our economy and the health of our state. The Beach Act that we passed six years ago was an important step in ensuring cleaner, safer beaches," said Lautenberg, who is the sponsor of the legislation in the Senate. "I look forward to working with Congressman Pallone and other members of the House to ensure that New Jersey families are protected at the beach."
"This new Beach Protection Act moves us toward the next generation of water monitoring. It will ensure faster answers to the question: Do you know what you're swimming in?'" said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Action. "Importantly, it will allow states to fund investigation and track down of pollution sources, which is essential to improve ocean water and protect public health. We look forward to working with Mr. Pallone and members of Congress to address the remaining significant issues, such as keeping precautionary closures, but this is a beachy start."
Each summer, tourism at New Jersey's beaches produces $36 billion in economic activities and provides nearly 500,000 jobs.