Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) today testified to a key U.S. House panel about the importance of passing two bills she introduced earlier this year to assist coastal communities with tsunami debris cleanup efforts. The hearing before the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs signals that the legislation is likely to move forward this year. Bonamici has broad bipartisan support for the bills, which are both cosponsored by senior Republican and Democratic members of the committee.
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"Marine debris has long been an issue facing these communities, but since a devastating earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan more than 2 years ago, the volume and nature of debris has increased dramatically, and our constituents need our help," said Bonamici in her testimony to the Subcommittee. "For state and local governments, most of which have been facing difficult budget decisions for years now, the cost of responding to this influx of debris presents additional hardship. The legislation before you today would start to address some of the concerns that have been brought to me by my constituents," Bonamici testified.
The Tsunami Debris Cleanup Reimbursement Act, H.R. 1491, would allow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to refund Oregon, other states, and local governments for tsunami debris cleanup expenses using $5 million in funding donated by the government of Japan. The Marine Debris Emergency Act, H.R. 1425, would expedite the current grant award process made through NOAA's Marine Debris Program and give preference to communities facing severe marine debris events.
Communities in the Pacific Ocean and on the West Coast of the United States began to experience a significant increase in marine debris arriving on their beaches and coastline following the tragic Tohoku earthquake and resulting tsunami that devastated the nation of Japan in March 2011. The first high-profile piece of debris was an abandoned fishing vessel that the U.S. Coast Guard sank off the coast of Alaska. Later, a 66-foot dock covered in potentially invasive marine species landed on an Oregon beach. Similar items have continued to arrive in recent months, and some oceanographers predict that the volume will increase.