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Harmful Algal Blooms And Hypoxia Research And Control Amendments Act Of 2010

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BAIRD. Mr. Speaker, pursuant to the resolution just adopted, I call up the bill (H.R. 3650) to establish a National Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Program, to develop and coordinate a comprehensive and integrated strategy to address harmful algal blooms and hypoxia, and to provide for the development and implementation of comprehensive regional action plans to reduce harmful algal blooms and hypoxia, and ask for its immediate consideration.

Mr. BAIRD. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

H.R. 3650, the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2009, as amended, is a good bipartisan bill. The bill represents a timely and necessary step to address the large and growing problems of harmful algal blooms and hypoxia. The Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act was first signed into law in 1998 and last reauthorized in 2004. Since the last reauthorization, there has been an increase in the number, frequency, and type of algal blooms and hypoxic events.

These events can terribly affect the marine and freshwater systems where they occur. Large fish kills, closed beaches, and poisoned seafood are all typical consequences of harmful algal blooms.

I listened to the debate on the rule prior to our debating the bill itself; and as far as the question of why are we debating this, the simple answer is, it can kill you. Indeed, it does kill some of our citizens every year. It kills countless numbers of fish life, it destroys tourism, and it costs hundreds of millions of dollars. That seems to me a pretty good reason to take something up.

In addition, as my dear friend and colleague from Florida will attest, his tourist industry, as mine, and as the gentlewoman from Maine who spoke earlier and indeed the gentleman from California and my colleague from Texas, all have beaches which are adversely affected. If the issue we are concerned about is jobs, harmful algal blooms are destroyers of jobs in addition to takers of lives.

In freshwater, harmful algal blooms present a toxin that is very, very difficult to remove; and let me clarify why. All the normal means we use to purify water don't work with harmful algal blooms. You cannot boil it because boiling separates the toxin from the algae and actually concentrates the toxin. Indeed, lab researchers use boiling as a way to concentrate the toxin when they are trying to study it. You can't filter it because filtering breaks down the bodies of the algae, and that also releases the toxin. Chlorine doesn't work because chlorine is designed to kill protozoa, and these are not protozoa. The toxin is not caused by a protozoa.

So we've got a very dangerous problem. And beyond that, it is a problem that is expanding in duration. Harmful algal blooms and hypoxic events are starting earlier in the season and lasting longer. They are growing in larger scale, and they are spreading around the country. We have some ideas about why, and we have some ideas about how to control them, but we don't know for certain. And that is why this bill matters, and that is why my colleagues, Mr. Mack, Mr. Ehlers and others, have worked on it. We have taken some important steps since 1998 and 2004. And, again, I want to commend my colleague, Vern Ehlers, who has been instrumental on this issue for many, many years.

The bill before us would establish a National Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tasked as the lead in overseeing the development of these plans and the execution of this national program.

HABs, again, do not only affect our coastlines. From the waters and streams of Virginia and West Virginia to the Great Lakes, throughout this country, every single State in the Union, whether it is freshwater or marine ecosystem, has been affected by harmful algal blooms. My own State of Washington, the Puget Sound in Hood Canal, has a dead zone that expands every year. Off our coast, we have increasing dead zones, and red tides devastate the tourist industry when they stop the clamming season from happening.

Legitimate questions have been raised about the authorized funding levels in this bill. But the increased investment this legislation calls for is necessary to address the harmful economic impacts and health impacts that HABs pose to our country. Conservative estimates back in 2006 estimated a minimum impact of $82 million per year.

This bill is the product of bipartisan collaboration and contains the input of both Democratic and Republican Members. And as I mentioned, Dr. Vern Ehlers, Dr. Connie Mack, as well as on our side Mr. Kratovil and Ms. Castor, have all offered very valuable input.

The bill you have before you today is the product of two hearings, a subcommittee markup, a full committee markup, post-markup negotiations with the three House committees with jurisdiction over the bill, as well as negotiations with the Senate Commerce Committee.

The bill represents a focused effort to address the specific issues of harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.

I urge my colleagues to support the bill, and I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. BAIRD. I want to commend the gentleman from Florida. His personal story is one we hear so often. But he knows it firsthand, from his time as a child, an occasional red tide where his parents probably said, No, you can't go swimming today, son, to a 13-month period of red tide. Earlier when I said we have seen an expansion in duration, in size, and in breadth across the country, that's precisely what I'm referring to.

I'm sure this is true of both of my colleagues from Florida. If you're a hotel owner, and you get notice that a red tide is forming off your beach, that's it. You basically can kiss your entire season of income--or at least a good part of it--goodbye. Where I'm from in the Pacific Northwest, clamming, razor clams are one of the great things that draws people to the coast. Our beaches just are covered with folks, and they get up in the wee hours of the morning when the tide is low and go out. It is a great family endeavor. It provides a wonderful delicacy to people, and people look forward to it year-round, and it is the high season at the coast. Except if a scientist is out there and says, We've got an algal bloom forming, and it is not safe for people to eat the shellfish or to swim in this water at this time.

Why isn't it safe? Well, first off, I want to underscore that most shellfish from around our country is safe, but during these periods, it is not. And here is why: The toxin that forms is a neurotoxin. It attacks your brain. It's called paralytic shellfish poisoning. In some areas, sometimes you will hear it as amnesic shellfish poisoning. Amnesic shellfish poisoning attacks the part of your brain that turns short-term memories into long-term memories. This is a bad thing. This means that you can't learn new information. So when people say, Oh, this is algae, what do we care about algae--I heard this a lot yesterday. Why are we coming back into session to talk about algae? Well, I hope people can remember that if they eat shellfish with paralytic shellfish poisoning, they can die. Their brain can be damaged. Their children's brains can be damaged. If somebody says, Oh, Mom and Dad, it's just red tide, I'm going swimming anyway, you can't let that happen. The kid will die. It's that serious.

Let me turn to the freshwater. A true story from my district. Imagine you take your family dog, your beloved favorite pet, to the water that you always take them to. You take the tennis ball and you fling it out into the water. And your retriever jumps in the water, swims out, grabs that tennis ball, swims back to the shore. You take the tennis ball out, you turn to throw it, and the dog is dying before your eyes. That really happened. It happened in my district in a lake that, when there's not an algal bloom, people recreate in, they have sailboats, they have boat races, they swim in it, they take their dogs there. From one week when it was safe for that dog to go in the water, the owner comes back the next week, and through no fault of their own, the dog does everything it normally does, and it dies.

If I had a glass of clear water here, and someone were saying, Oh, what a waste of time, what a waste of time to work on this, and it had the toxin from blue-green algae, the person who drank that water would die. If it's in your freshwater system, a large reservoir for your municipality, and you get a blue-green algal bloom in that with toxin, I would ask my colleagues who are skeptical about this, Tell me how you get it out? There are mechanisms, but they're not easy, and they're very costly. How do you get it out of there? And more importantly, tell me how you're going to give the people who you represent clean drinking water if your water system is contaminated. If you depend on surface reservoirs, and you get a blue-green algal bloom, you are in deep, deep trouble, and you are looking at a lot of money and possibly some deaths of your constituents.

Mr. Mack talked a little bit about hypoxia, which is a huge problem in the Gulf. Let me put this in terms we understand: Hypoxic zones are areas where the algae has decomposed, and that decomposition has taken the air out of the water, basically taken the oxygen out. Imagine if you were walking your normal route to work or to your home, and suddenly, invisibly, you went into an area where there was no oxygen in the air. You're walking a route you normally take. No oxygen. What happens? You suffocate. You die. That's what dead zones do. Hundreds of thousands, millions of aquatic fish--the very fish that our fishermen in our coastal communities depend on, the very fish we eat and enjoy--they just flat die. They're swimming in their normal, maybe their migratory route, maybe their reproductive areas. They go into this area. They can't tell there is no oxygen in the water. They swim into it, they have no oxygen, and they die in enormous quantities. Then they wash up on the beaches as a pleasant attraction for our tourism industry.

In this body, we stick around to honor sports teams, we praise movie stars. This is something that can kill you, for goodness sakes.

I also want to make sure we thank the many scientists who have done the work on this legislation. Scientists around the world are trying to study the causes, trying to study the interventions. They literally evaluate our beaches around the country and our freshwater systems on a daily basis and give us the information we need to protect the public safety and health. And I want to make sure I commend them.

At this point I will reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. BAIRD. I thank the gentleman for his comments.

Before recognizing Ms. Castor, I would just point out, as he is aware--first of all, I want to thank him for his support of the underlying issue here. I think the recognition of the severity of this problem is much appreciated, as Mr. Mack will attest to in just a moment.

Regarding the issue of unfunded mandates, the Congressional Budget Office has looked at this legislation and determined specifically that it does not impose any unfunded mandates, so I respect the concern but would offer assurance that it is not considered a problem, at least by CBO.

Regarding the authorization levels, we discussed these levels at some length. Given the severity of the problem, we actually began with the higher number. In consult with our friends on the other side of the aisle, we actually lowered the number. And, furthermore, the number, of course, is an authorizing number; it is not an appropriated amount. Our premise is that the problem actually perhaps deserves substantially more money than we have been spending on it because it is a deadly threat and an economic loss. But we recognize that probably now actual appropriated levels will fall below authorization. Having a greater authorization allows us to up the effort should a situation arise that needs that.

With that, I'm happy to yield such time as she may consume to the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Castor), who has been a champion of this, as it affects so much of her State.

Mr. BAIRD. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I am so delighted that Mr. Ehlers is here for a number of reasons. First of all, the history of harmful algal bloom legislation really owes its existence to this gentleman. As a scientist, as someone who cares passionately about the people of his State and the Great Lakes, I will say without any hesitation the Great Lakes have had no stronger champion in the Congress than this gentleman here, Dr. Ehlers. And for that matter, I believe science itself has had no stronger champion.

If you look at his contributions on the Great Lakes, harmful algal blooms I just mentioned. Invasive species. He has been a champion in trying to fight the zebra mussel, which is also the kind of thing someone could look at with derision and say why are we trying to fight invasive species, a little tiny mussel? Well, it costs billions of dollars a year in property loss and economic loss. Just yesterday we were on a panel together and he was raising the very important issue of the possible invasion of carp into the Great Lakes system, which would devastate the sports fishing and other industries in the Great Lakes.

The other reason I think it is particularly appropriate that he is here is when we speak about red tide, inland communities may say, we don't have any marine waters, what do we care? The Great Lakes are a classic example of an area where harmful algal blooms can affect fresh waters as well as maritime waters. And so my hat is off to Dr. Ehlers, and he has my gratitude for his leadership on this over the years.

In closing, I would like to again thank my friend and colleague from Texas, my friend from Michigan, and Mr. Mack, Ms. Castor, and Mr. Kratovil. I am very grateful for the time, and urge passage of this.

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