Efforts to boost federal appropriations for marine debris cleanup in five western states have taken a back seat in Congress, in the wake of efforts to clean up the east coast from superstorm Sandy.
Congress on Jan. 5 approved a $9.7 billion package for the National Flood Insurance Program to help those hard hit by Sandy in October. Both the House and Senate were to consider on Jan. 15 another $51 billion package for Sandy damage.
An aide to Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said Jan. 5 that funds for marine debris cleanup meanwhile were reduced from $56.8 million to $50 million and specified to be only for Sandy-related marine debris, “so in other words we’re getting nothing.
“The fisheries disaster money suffered a similar fate-reduced from $150 million to $5 million and directed to a fishery on the East Coast affected by the storm,” said Begich aide Amy Miller, in an email response on the status of $15 million Begich sought from the Senate Appropriations Committee for marine debris cleanup from the Japanese tsunami.
“We’re going to try to reinstate the funds when the bill comes back to the senate, but we're not super optimistic about those prospects,” Miller said. “If we can’t get the money in this bill we’ll look for the next available opportunity.”
Begich said earlier that he was very grateful for the Japanese peoples’ gift of $5 million to address the tsunami debris and thought the very least the US could do would be to provide a 3-to-1 match of $15 million.
Scientists have estimated that up to 1.5 million tons of debris was swept into the ocean by the Japanese tsunami and is being carried toward the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and California.
“I hope we can find a way to use these funds to leverage private-sector dollars as well, as the scope of the tsunami debris problem is truly overwhelming,” Begich said in late December in a letter to Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Begich also reminded Inouye that he had already requested in a separate document $45 million to respond to the multi-year Chinook salmon run failures in Alaska, which have hit hard at commercial and subsistence fisheries.
Inouye, who was a close friend of the late former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, passed away Dec. 17. Together Inouye and Stevens had over the years brought home billions in federal dollars to Hawaii and Alaska.