Providence, RI – Over the last few months the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has demonstrated the fragility of the world’s oceans and the extent to which America’s economy relies on their continued well-being. Today U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse joined Rhode Island environmental leaders at Save The Bay headquarters in Providence to announce new legislation that would establish a “National Endowment for the Oceans.” Much like the National Endowments for the Arts, which was established by Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell, Whitehouse’s legislation would create a reliable stream of revenue to fund projects aimed at protecting and preserving our oceans and coastal areas.
“Rhode Island is called The Ocean State for a reason: Our economy is directly tied to the health of our greatest natural resource and we cannot afford to neglect it,” said Whitehouse, a Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “This legislation will help to protect our oceans and coasts so they can continue to drive our economy for generations to come.”
The National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes Act, sponsored by Whitehouse and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), would establish a grant program to fund activities to preserve and restore our ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems to protect the communities and economies that rely on these areas. The Endowment will include rigorous application and review procedures as well as performance accountability measures for funded projects. It will be administered by the Secretary of Commerce in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Director of the Council on Environmental Quality, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Director of the National Science Foundation.
“Throughout my tenure as Ranking Member on the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, I have worked to enhance management and protection of the Nation’s invaluable coastal and ocean resources. The legislation we are developing would be a major step forward, ensuring a steady stream of funding for state, regional, and National ocean and coastal priorities. It is only appropriate that funding for this initiative should come from offshore oil and gas activities on the outer continental shelf,” said Senator Snowe. “In the two and a half months that the ongoing tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico has captivated the Nation, we have all witnessed the devastation improperly managed oil and gas development can wreak upon our shores. This calamity speaks to the responsibility we have to balance offshore energy activities with protection of our vital natural resources. A National Endowment for the Oceans that reinvests a portion of offshore revenues in the areas most directly affected was one of the fundamental recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, and I look forward to actively pursuing its development and implementation.”
Whitehouse joined local leaders in ocean conservation, including Save The Bay’s Executive Director, Jonathan Stone, to announce the details of this new national program. Robert Ballard, the world-renowned oceanographer and University of Rhode Island professor, was travelling abroad and unable to attend the press conference, but contributed a pre-recorded video statement endorsing Whitehouse’s legislation. According to Ballard, the legislation would “make resources available to implement the recommendations submitted by the Ocean Policy and Pew Commissions and I am pleased to offer my endorsement and pledge to work for its enactment into law.”