• Environmental legislation brings unity, protection of seashores

    By Cameron Douglas

    Lawmakers in both major political parties acted unanimously to give the planet a nice Christmas gift – continued protection of our oceans and beaches from harmful trash and debris. The legislation is chiefly the work of Representative Sam Farr of the 17th California Congressional District, who obtained bipartisan agreement in both the House and Senate to continue funding for this critical issue.

    Farr’s contribution is a revised version of an existing bill called the Marine Debris Act. In a nutshell, the Marine Debris Act funds the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Program, which addresses the adverse effects of ocean trash. The original Marine Debris Act “sunsetted” in 2010. Farr’s revision amended the original bill to do away with any sunset, clearing the way for permanent funding. It is considered a low-cost program at $10 million maximum per year. The expenses for 2013 are projected to be larger in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, but there is relief funding to help with that.

    The reasons for such legislation are obvious. By now, most of us have seen images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a swirling mass of plastic refuse and other trash in the North Pacific Gyre. Its size is difficult to measure, but estimates run between 270,000 and 5,800,000 square miles.

    The most significant part of the revised Marine Debris Act is an expanded definition of marine debris. Previously, that only included trash that originates out at sea. It will now include all trash that ends up in the ocean, including that which originates on land. “It’s the first time anything land-originated is considered marine debris,” said Adam Russell, Farr’s press secretary. “This allows NOAA to look at the entire problem.”

    Farr submitted his bill as stand-alone legislation to be part of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act (HR 2838), a larger piece of legislation that was already conferenced. Both the House and Senate agreed on Farr’s new language, and inserted it in the new CGMTA. This required only one vote in each legislative body instead of multiple votes.

    “From the tsunami that impacted Japan last year to Hurricane Sandy that struck the east coast, we have seen a noticeable increase in the amount of debris in our oceans,” Congressman Farr stated in a press release. “These disasters only highlight the problem. Every year, 14 billion pounds of trash are added to our oceans…This act allows for the continued funding of a program that protects this vital resource and ensures its long-term health.”

    Marine debris carries a high cost. Statistics from Farr’s office show that each year, $250 million of marketable lobster is lost to derelict fishing gear. On the other side of that, a survey in one Oregon port showed that 58 percent of local fishermen had experienced equipment damage due to marine debris, with an average repair cost of $2,725 per boat. In Alaska, aerial monitoring of the local debris field from the Japanese tsunami cost $200,000.

    Meanwhile, marine debris clean-up costs vary. Los Angeles spends $18 million a year in efforts to keep trash from reaching the ocean. In one summer, Orange County filled ten garbage trucks each week from a six-mile stretch of beach at a cost of $350,000.

    Farr, a Democrat, worked closely with Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska), paving the way for bipartisan support. Farr also gained cooperation and support from many organizations including Surfriders, Ocean Champions, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and Covanta Energy.

    “If we are going to provide sound stewardship of the world’s largest trust, then we must fully understand the nature of the problem,” said Farr. “As our society has grown more dependent on disposable items, the oceans have become a dumping ground for our waste. Trash that endangers the health of our oceans does not differentiate whether it arrived in the ocean from a boat or not. We must begin to understand that choices we make here on land have impact on our oceans as well.”

    President Obama signed Farr’s Marine Debris Act, and the entire Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act, into law on Friday, December 21, 2012.

    For more information and ways you can help, visit NOAA’s Marine Debris Program web page: marinedebris.noaa.gov/ Click on “Marine Debris 101”

     

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    Congressman Farr addresses attendees of the “Hands Across the Sand” demonstration against ocean oil drilling on June 26, 2010 at Carmel Beach. Photo from Cedar Street Times archives.

     

    Alaska debris

    Fishing debris on the Alaskan shoreline. Photo courtesy Bob King and Alaska Sea Grant.

     

    posted to Cedar Street Times on December 30, 2012

    Topics: Cameron Douglas, Green

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