03.30.17

Senators Form Bipartisan Alliance to Address Marine Debris Crisis

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have introduced the bipartisan Save our Seas (SOS) Act to help address the marine debris epidemic affecting America’s ocean shorelines and inland waterways, as well as other coasts across the globe.  Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) also co-sponsored the bill.

“Stopping the flow of plastic garbage that fills our oceans and washes up on shorelines is a challenge that requires bipartisan and international cooperation,” said Whitehouse.  “I’m glad we can work across the aisle in Congress to help keep debris out of Narragansett Bay and off our beaches and protect the small businesses that rely on a clean and healthy Rhode Island coastline.  We have a long way to go, but this legislation is a start toward research, international efforts, and responsible trade policies that together will help us better care for the world’s oceans.”

Every year, eight million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste from land enters the oceans.  It then breaks down into tiny pieces that can enter the marine food web and harm fish and wildlife, and wash ashore on even the most remote beaches.  Last year, volunteers for Save The Bay’s annual beach cleanup removed more than 151,000 pieces of trash weighing nearly 15,000 pounds from Rhode Island shores. 

“Save The Bay applauds Senator Whitehouse for his bipartisan efforts to address the daunting environmental challenge of marine debris,” said Jonathan Stone, Executive Director of Save the Bay.  “While the causes of this problem vary regionally, all coastal states are affected by the many different forms of marine debris.  For example, each year Rhode Island’s beautiful coastline is marred by tons of trash and debris from polluted stormwater run-off, littering, illegal dumping, and lost or abandoned fishing gear.  This bill is a good example of a bipartisan commitment to solving one of the many significant environmental challenges confronting coastal states.”

The Save our Seas (SOS) Act will help confront the marine debris crisis by:

  • Allowing the NOAA Administrator to declare severe marine debris events and authorize funds to assist with cleanup and response.  The Governor of the affected state may request the NOAA Administrator make this declaration.
  • Reauthorizing NOAA’s Marine Debris Program through FY2022.  Its mission is to conduct research on the source of marine debris and take action to prevent and clean up marine debris.
  • Encouraging the Executive Branch – led by the U.S. State Department – to engage with the leaders of nations responsible for the majority of marine debris, support research into ocean biodegradable plastics, examine the causes of ocean debris, develop effective prevention and mitigation strategies, and quantify the economic benefits for treaty nations in addressing the crisis. 

Whitehouse’s recent bipartisan efforts have reaped significant results.  With his colleague Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Whitehouse co-authored the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, sweeping legislation to stem the opioid addiction crisis that was signed into law last summer.  Congress has enacted a bipartisan long-term transportation funding bill that includes a program—the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program—which Whitehouse pursued with the intent of funding extremely overdue highway repairs in Rhode Island.  Whitehouse also helped broker a bipartisan compromise in the Senate to overhaul the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act, the nation’s primary toxic chemical protection law. 

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