July 25, 2018

House Unanimously Passes Bipartisan Marine Debris Legislation

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted unanimously to pass legislation aimed at addressing the growing challenge of marine debris. The Save Our Seas (SOS) Act, introduced by co-chairs of the Senate Oceans Caucus, passed with bipartisan support in the Senate last summer.

Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Honorary Co-Chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus, sponsored S. 756, the Save Our Seas (SOS) Act. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Founding Co-Chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus, and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a former Honorary Co-Chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus, were original co-sponsors. In the House, Oceans Caucus Co-Chairs Representative Don Young (R-AK) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) introduced companion legislation prior to House consideration of the Senate bill.

In remarks delivered during House committee hearings prior to the bill being brought up for floor consideration, Congressman Don Young told Congressional colleagues, “As a member of the Oceans Caucus, I know that we need to address this issue very quickly and this bill is a step in the right direction…I hope everyone here recognizes this is one of the biggest problems we have in our oceans today. This issue affects our fisheries, our coastlines – and possibly the decline in our fisheries due to the invasion of these harmful plastic products.”

It has been estimated that up to 12.7 million metric tons of waste entered the ocean in 2012, and that number is expected to increase by an order of magnitude if waste management infrastructure improvements are not implemented by 2025. Current authorizations for programs responsible for removal of debris have expired, and there are insufficient resources available to address and understand this problem.

The Save our Seas (SOS) Act, which aims to promote a global response to the marine debris crisis, primarily serves to reauthorize the expired NOAA Marine Debris Program for five years. The bill also encourages the U.S. State Department to engage with foreign leaders of countries in which the problem of marine debris is most severe in order to foster collaborative research into the sources and causes of refuse in order to promulgate an effective prevention strategy.

Senator Whitehouse has said of the bill, “This bill tackles the marine debris crisis along American coasts. It will also push us to work with other countries on limiting the plastics and other harmful materials that find their way to the ocean. That includes working on an international agreement to stop the flow of trash from land into the ocean, and, if trash does get to the ocean, supporting research into new materials that break down in a way that won’t wreak havoc in our seas.”

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