Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) introduced bipartisan legislation yesterday 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.
"This solution will help Pacific County and communities up and down our coast more quickly counteract the threat of the tsunami debris onslaught," said Jaime. "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."
"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.
Jaime has continued to work on increasing and improving resources to help Southwest Washington respond to incoming tsunami debris. In June, she supported increased funding for NOAA's Marine Debris Program. She also joined with a bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress urging the Coast Guard to quickly present a plan for notification, monitoring and information sharing that can help address these potential threats before they cause significant damage.