Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) introduced bipartisan legislation today to help communities impacted by marine debris emergencies secure federal assistance. They were joined by 16 original cosponsors representing Oregon, Washington, and California -- Representatives Kurt Schrader, Jim McDermott, Peter DeFazio, Rick Larsen, Mike Honda, Earl Blumenauer, Mike Thompson, Judy Chu, Jackie Speier, Adam Smith, Norm Dicks, Lynn Woolsey, George Miller, Janice Hahn, Greg Walden, and Pete Stark.
Currently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides marine debris removal grants but does not distinguish between emergency and non-emergency scenarios. The Marine Debris Emergency Act establishes the definition of a "marine debris emergency" and expedites the entire grant application process.
"When a coastal community encounters a marine debris emergency, they need to be able to respond immediately to keep our waters and beaches safe," said Congresswoman Bonamici. "Grants to address these emergencies currently exist; this bill will ensure they move to the front of the line and are handled with the necessary urgency."
The bill defines a "marine debris emergency" as an event in which marine debris poses an immediate threat to the living marine resources, marine environment, navigation safety, or public health of the United States, and is beyond the scope of state and local government capacity to respond. This definition would include the recent and ongoing arrival of debris on the Pacific Coast following the tsunami that struck Japan in March of 2011.
The bill will require NOAA to give preference to those areas experiencing a marine debris emergency and applying for debris removal grants. Additionally, the bill will require NOAA to approve or deny all Marine Debris Program grant submissions within 60 days of application.
"This solution will help Pacific County and communities up and down our coast more quickly counteract the threat of the tsunami debris onslaught," said Congresswoman Herrera Beutler. "By streamlining processes, we can put existing emergency resources to work faster where they're needed most. I'm pleased to work with Congresswoman Bonamici on this bill to protect our coastal communities, economies and ecosystems."
Congresswoman Bonamici has been working on efforts to protect Oregon's shores from incoming tsunami debris. Following the arrival of a 60-foot Japanese dock on the Oregon coast, she convened a meeting of local, state, and federal stakeholders to discuss coordinated efforts to address the growing marine debris problem. She also led 27 Members of Congress in writing a letter to the United States Coast Guard, asking it to clarify its marine debris response procedures.