The House Natural Resources Committee has unanimously approved two bills Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) introduced earlier this year to address tsunami debris landing on the Pacific Northwest Coast. 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 and tribal 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, as amended by the committee, would allow NOAA to give preference to communities facing severe marine debris events when allocating funding through NOAA's Marine Debris Program. Both bills have strong bipartisan support.
"The debris from the tsunami that tragically affected Japan continues to wash up along our coastline," said Bonamici. "These bills would help states like Oregon pay for cleanup efforts by allowing expenses already incurred to be reimbursed and by allowing NOAA to prioritize how they allocate funding when severe marine debris events occur. Now that the committee has acted on this legislation it can be considered on the House Floor. I'm working with my friends across the aisle to have a vote scheduled."
Bonamici testified in May to the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs about the importance of passing the two bills. The committee made slight adjustments to both bills, but the only substantive change was to the Marine Debris Emergency Act. The original version of the bill required NOAA to give preference to communities facing severe marine debris events and expedite applications for funding in NOAA's Marine Debris Program. The amended version simply allows NOAA to give preference to communities facing severe marine debris events, something it is currently prohibited from doing.
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.