March 8, 2012

Senate Passes Whitehouse Measure Establishing National Endowment for the Oceans

Measure Will Protect Environment and Support Jobs

Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate today approved a measure by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that will establish a new National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes.  The measure, which was approved as part of an amendment to a federal transportation funding bill, will help protect our oceans and coasts and support jobs in industries like fishing and tourism.

“In Rhode Island, and in many areas across our country, the strength of our economy is directly tied to the health of our oceans,” said Whitehouse.  “The legislation approved today will provide a reliable stream of funding to get the Endowment off the ground and begin the work of protecting our oceans and supporting fishing, research, and tourism jobs.  We will now be caretakers, not just takers, of our oceans.”

The Senate voted today to approve the RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act of 2011 as an amendment to the transportation bill.  The RESTORE Act would set up a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund financed by the billions of dollars in Clean Water Act penalties expected to be paid by BP and other companies responsible for the 2010 Gulf oil spill.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently litigating those Clean Water Act claims in federal court in Louisiana.  An amendment negotiated by Whitehouse and approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee last year would provide half of the interest generated by that fund – expected to be tens of millions of dollars in the first year alone – to the National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes.  The Endowment would be established in the U.S. Treasury and would be managed by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Funds from the Endowment would be distributed through grant programs to coastal states and regional planning organizations, and through a national competitive grant program to support activities in any state that would benefit our oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes.

The grant programs established in the Endowment would fund projects to restore habitat, manage fisheries, plan for sustainable coastal development, acquire coastal properties for preservation, and relocate critical coastal infrastructure.

Next, the Senate must vote on the overall transportation funding bill.  The House of Representatives would then need to approve the legislation before the President can sign it into law.  House Speaker John Boehner has indicated a willingness to bring the bill up for a vote.


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