Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Senate Approves Bill to Save Seas from Plastics

The US Senate has unanimously approved the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, addressing the plastic debris crisis threatening coastal economies and marine life.

The legislation, introduced by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has 17 Senate co-sponsors, including Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, both D-Hawaii.

Supporters of the companion legislation still moving through the US House include Representatives Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Don Young, R-Alaska, co-chairs of the House Oceans Caucus.

Save Our Seas 2.0 builds on the success of the 2018 Save Our Seas Act. It is composed of three main components.

The first part aims to strengthen the nation’s domestic marine debris response capability with a Marine Debris Foundation, a genius prize for innovation, and new research to tackle and reduce marine debris. The legislation calls for a prize of at least $100,000 each time in competition to be held every other year for a decade.

The second piece aims to enhance global engagement to combat marine debris, including formalizing US policy on international cooperation, enhancing federal agency outreach to other countries, and exploring potential for a new international agreement on the challenge. This component would increase the authorization for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program annual budget from $10 million to $15 million.

The third component calls for improving domestic infrastructure to prevent marine debris through new grants for and studies of waste management and mitigation. The accompanying financial package of $85 million a year for five years would establish four grant programs to improve the water and waste management infrastructure in the US.

Ocean Conservancy spokesman Jeff Watters cited the bill for taking a science-based approach to tackle ocean plastics pollution and for setting the stage for more ambitious action to come.

The bill “rightly recognizes the global nature of the ocean plastics crisis, proposes badly needed improvements to both domestic and international waste management and recycling systems, and supports more research to better understand the problem and what interventions would be most effective,” he said.

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