U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) joined environmental activists and recreational fishermen to laud the expected passage next week of the Beach Protection Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and its introduction in the U.S. Senate.
The Beach Protection Act, which was introduced by the two New Jersey lawmakers in their respected chambers, requires tough new water quality testing and public notification standards so beachgoers are better informed about the safety of their beaches.
Yesterday, the House began debate on Pallone's bill and a vote is expected next week. Pallone anticipates that it will pass overwhelmingly with strong bipartisan support. Also yesterday, Lautenberg re-introduced his bill in the Senate with Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), George Voinovich (R-OH) and John Warner (R-VA). The Senate Environment Committee is expected to take up this bill within the month.
"I am confident that next week the House will ensure the protection of beachgoers and the environment by passing the Beach Protection Act," Pallone said. "This legislation will protect beachgoers here in New Jersey by giving the state access to rapid water testing methods so that beaches designated as polluted can be shut down immediately."
"New Jersey's beaches are a treasure and we need to do all we can to help them remain clean and safe," Lautenberg said. "Clean water is essential for our economy and the health of our state. Our new bill is the right step to further protect our shores and our waters. I applaud Frank Pallone for working to get this bill ready for a vote in the House of Representatives, and am proud to have his support as I continue the effort for cleaner and safer beaches in the Senate."
For the first time, both the Senate and House bills mandate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) develop rapid testing procedures not currently used that detect bathing water contamination 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 pollutants and other waste that threaten people's health.
The Beach Protection Act also increases grant money available annually to states through 2012 from $30 million to $40 million in the House and $60 million in the Lautenberg bill. It also expands the scope of the grants to also include pollution source tracking so that states can identify where pollution is coming from in the ocean. And in the Senate version, some funding may be used for clean up purposes.
The legislation reauthorizes the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, which was authored by Lautenberg and Pallone and signed into law by President Clinton in 2000.
Under the original BEACH Act, the 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.
"Clean Ocean Action worked hard with our outstanding ocean champions, Mr. Lautenberg and Mr. Pallone, as well as colleagues from around the country, to ensure these bills moved water quality testing into the 21st century," said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Action. "With the best of these two bills enacted, families will know on day one whether or not it's safe to swim, not three days later. As we all know, a clean beach today, keeps the doctor at bay. Moreover, closed beaches suffering from pollution will have funding to track down and reduce sources of raw or poorly treated sewage."
Each summer, tourism at New Jersey's beaches produces $36 billion in economic activities and provides nearly 500,000 jobs.