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Public Statements

Marine Debris Act Amendments of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. FARR. Mr. Speaker, I truly appreciate the support we've seen in a bipartisan fashion here for this legislation known as the Marine Debris Act Amendments of 2012.

This bill was first carried and introduced in the United States Senate by Senator Inouye and the late Senator Ted Stevens. They recognized, Senator Inouye from Hawaii, the entire island surrounded by ocean, and so much washes up on the shores of the islands, and Alaska, with probably one of the longest coastlines in the United States, certainly impacts from the ocean on them. And that's why it's so nice and wonderful to have my colleague Don Young from Alaska, the only Representative in the House from Alaska, to be a strong proponent of this.

As he pointed out, Alaska has already seen the consequences of not having reauthorization when the Japanese tsunami has started to wash up. They've spent, in the first wave of the tsunami debris, Alaska's already spent over $200,000 of State money in just aerial monitoring of the local debris from the Japanese tsunami.

What this legislation does in reauthorization is allow States to receive grants from NOAA so that the States can deal with their coastline debris problems.

It is important we do this for an even bigger purpose, which is that, frankly, life on land is dependent on the quality of life at sea. We know that we have over the years and decades been dumping everything we don't like on land--and can't figure out where else to dump it--into the ocean. At the same time, we take whatever we want out of the ocean. Dumping and taking can upset the system so badly that you have oceans die; and, certainly, we have big parts of the ocean that are dying because of all the debris and waste that are in the oceans.

What this bill does is allow the Coast Guard, in working with NOAA, which is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to jointly look at, monitor and figure out ways to clean this stuff up. If we don't do that, we're going to suffer. It's like living in pollution in your own backyard. Eventually, there are consequences.

I think that those of us who have done ocean legislation over the years--and Don Young has been one of the greater ones to understand it--realize that, in solving the problem, it's going to require local action and that it's going to require national and international coordination. It's not our ocean alone. It goes all over the world, and things in the ocean go all over the world. Just think of the old stories about bottles and where they wind up. Now we see with the tsunami that all this Japanese land mass stuff that was washed into the sea is now showing up in Alaska and is showing up in Oregon and has shown up on the beaches in California--in Capitola, where I live.

This problem is also going to require some partnerships between the private sector and the fishermen community, in that it knows where some of these drift nets are, and between the public sector. It's going to require innovative technology. You have to detect it. We have found nets that have been left in Monterey Bay that are too heavy to lift out with conventional craft. We're going to have to go back to the fishing boats and to the families who lost those nets and use their fishing boats, which is a private enterprise supported by the public know-how of how to retrieve those nets. I think it's very exciting. It's certainly going to require education so that people don't keep dumping things they don't want into the ocean.

There are consequences for dumping. California is now addressing it in every local community by just storm water, the fact that all the water that falls on our streets and roads picks up oil and picks up other stuff that isn't compatible with ocean life and washes into it. We have done a lot to clean up sewers and to say we're not going to dump that stuff out into the ocean anymore, but we're still allowing other storm water to get out there. California is addressing this almost community by community, that being: How do we stop storm water and polluted storm water from getting into the ocean?

So this legislation of reauthorizing debris cleanup is much more than just giving NOAA some money to go out there and figure it out. It's really an entire program of figuring out how to keep oceans healthy.

I appreciate the bipartisan support. I appreciate the leadership of Mr. Young, and I appreciate the leadership on the committees. This bill went to two committees--to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and to the Natural Resources Committee. Both committees passed it out in bipartisan fashion, and now we have to pass it in the Senate. I hope it's not too late, and I hope Congressman Young will work with me in getting bipartisan support in the Senate so that we can get this bill to the President and get it signed before the calendar year runs out.


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