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Public Statements

Water Resources Development Act of 2013 - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, let me thank the distinguished Senator from Louisiana for his hard work, along with Chairman Boxer, to get us to this point, which I think is a very auspicious point with a very bipartisan bill on the floor and with the Senate on the cusp of an agreement that will allow us to implement the managers' amendment and call up the first tranche of Senate amendments.

I thank him and the Chairman for agreeing that an amendment of mine will be one of that first tranche of amendments. I am not going to call it up now because the agreement is not finalized, but I will discuss it so we can save time later on once the bill is pending.

My amendment would establish a national endowment for the oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes. Our oceans and our coasts face unprecedented challenges. Our coastal States, including our Great Lakes States, badly need this endowment. Water temperatures are increasing, the sea level is rising, and ocean water is growing more acidic.

Right now, we as a country and we as States and local communities are ill prepared to engage in the research, restoration, and in the conservation work that is necessary to protect our coastal communities and our coastal economies.

The noted ocean explorer Bob Ballard, who famously discovered the wreckage of the Titanic at the bottom of the Atlantic, has said:

a major problem ..... is the disconnect between the importance of our oceans and the meager funds we as a nation invest not only to understand their complexity, but to become responsible stewards of the bounty they represent.

Just how large is that bounty our Nation reaps from our oceans? Well, in 2010, marine activities such as fishing, energy development, and tourism contributed $258 billion to our U.S. gross domestic product and supported 2.8 million jobs. Along our coasts, shoreline counties, which actually include many of our biggest cities, generated 41 percent of our GDP, which is $6 trillion.

Coastal communities are the engines of our economy, and changes in the oceans put that economy at risk. We must find ways of using these vital resources without abusing them.

Last month the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee heard from scientists and industry leaders from across the country who are deeply worried about threats to our oceans. On the Pacific Coast, ocean acidification is killing off the oyster harvest--a major cash crop for that region. They are being killed off by sea water too acidic for the larval oysters to form their shells.

Live coral in some Caribbean reefs is down to less than 10 percent, which is bad news for Florida, which usually sees over 15 million recreational dives every year. Think of what those 15 million dives mean for Florida's economy. This not only affects the dive boats and trainers who take people out for scuba diving, but for hotels, restaurants, and retailers.

Evan Matthews, the port director for the Port of Quonset in my home State of Rhode Island, spoke on behalf of America's port administrators to tell us that rising sea levels make port infrastructure more vulnerable to damage from waves and storms.

Virtually all of our economy is touched by what goes through our network of coastal ports, and damage to any of them--since they work as a network--could disrupt the delivery of vital goods not only to coastal States but to inland States as well.

So it affects all of us.

But for the coastal States, this is very big. We have work to do preparing for changes in our oceans and preventing storm damage such as we saw in Superstorm Sandy. We need to reinforce natural coastal barriers such as dunes and estuaries that help bear the brunt of storm surges as well as acting as nurseries for our bounty of fish. We will need to relocate critical infrastructure such as water treatment plants and bridges, which are increasingly at risk of being washed away. We need to understand how ocean acidification and warming waters will affect the food chain and our fishing economies. We need to know where the high-risk areas are so coastline investors can understand the geographical risks.

These are coastal concerns, but they have implications for all 50 of our States. If you eat seafood or take a beach vacation in the summer, this concerns you. If you have purchased anything produced outside the United States and imported through our network of coastal ports, this concerns you. According to 2011 data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 75 percent of U.S. imports arrived on our shores through our ports, so they probably should concern you.

The National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes can help coastal States and communities protect more habitat and infrastructure, conduct more research, and clean more waters and beaches. The need is great and we must respond.

This amendment will just authorize the National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes. We will have to figure out how to fund it later. When we have figured out how to fund it, the endowment would make grants to coastal and Great Lakes States, to local governments, to planning bodies, to academic institutions, and to nonprofit organizations to learn more about and do a better job of protecting our coasts and oceans.

It would allow researchers to hire technicians, mechanics, computer scientists, and students. It would put people to work strengthening or relocating endangered public infrastructure. It would help scientists, businesses, and local communities work together to protect our working oceans, and it would protect jobs by restoring commercial fisheries and promoting sustainable and profitable fishing.

How great is the need for these projects? We know because a few years ago NOAA received $167 million for coastal restoration projects through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. When they asked for proposals, more than 800 proposals for shovel-ready construction and engineering projects came in--projects totaling $3 billion, seeking that $167 million in funding--projects from Alaska to Florida to the Carolinas to Maine. But NOAA could only fund 50 of the 800. The National Endowment for the Oceans will help us move forward with more of these key projects to help protect our oceans and drive our economy.

We will continue to take advantage of the oceans' bounty, as we should. We will trade, we will fish, and we will sail. We will dispose of waste. We will extract fuel and harness the wind. We will work our working oceans. Navies and cruise ships, sailboats and supertankers will plow their surface. We cannot--we will not--undo this part of our relationship with the sea. But what we can change is what we do in return.

We can, for the first time, give a little back. We can become stewards of our oceans--not just takers but caretakers--and we must do this sooner rather than later, as changes to our oceans pose a mounting and nationwide threat.

Let me quote Dr. Jeremy Mathis of the University of Alaska, who said this recently:

This is going to be a shared threat. ..... [I]t's not unique to any one place or any one part of the country. And so we're going to have to tackle it as a nation, all of us working together. ..... Whether you live along the coast of Washington or Rhode Island, or whether you live in the heartland in Iowa, this is going to be something that touches everybody's lives.

So today I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this amendment to authorize the National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes. It will not obligate any funding. We will figure out later an appropriate way to fund it. But at least help our Nation take this important step protecting our oceans and coasts; protecting the jobs they support through fishing, research, and tourism; protecting the stability of our national economy, which depends on ports and maritime activity; and, of course, protecting the property and the lives of the millions of Americans who live and work near the sea.

Colleagues, you can help us become, as Dr. Ballard said, ``responsible stewards of the bounty [the oceans provide].''

For those who are not sure, let me add one further consideration for my colleagues, a Senate consideration. This endowment, together with funding--indeed, permanent and directed funding--was part of a negotiated package with billions of dollars in benefits to America's gulf States. For reasons that are not worth discussing and are no one side's fault, that agreement was broken and this part of that deal fell out. If you believe people should keep their word around here, if you believe agreements forged in the Senate should stick, then I would ask my colleagues, just on those grounds, to support this partial repair of that broken agreement.

I look forward, for that and other reasons, to having bipartisan support for this amendment, and I hope we can make a strong showing in this body to carry it forward as part of this important water resources development legislation.

With that, I will take this opportunity to yield the floor. Seeing no one seeking recognition, I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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