The press release crossed my screen a few weeks ago. A bi-partisan bill in the U.S. Senate to address the issue of marine debris. Introduced by Senators Whitehouse (D-RI), Sullivan (R-AK) and Booker (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by their counterparts in Delaware, Oregon, Missouri and North Carolina.
The bill is said to:
- allow the NOAA to declare “severe marine debris events” and allocate funds for cleanup,
- reauthorize the Marine Debris Program
- encourage the State Department to engage with other nations, support research into ocean biodegradable plastics, examine the causes of ocean debris, develop effective prevention and mitigation, and quantify economic benefits
The cynic in me went searching for the official Senate document. Blame it on the current political atmosphere, but I wanted to see the document myself.
The unassuming 7 page PDF is written just as you would expect, and as I read through it, a few things jumped out at me.
- There is authorization to make funds available given a severe marine debris event, with allocative priorities going to rural communities and National areas of interest. There is no mention of where said funds would come from. Given the current administrations propensity to cut funding, especially to science & environmental organization, this seems suspect (Section 3).
- There is mention of funding, research & development for “bio-based alternatives”. Which was translated in the press release to biodegradable. Biodegradable plastics only degrade at very specific environmental conditions (not found in the oceans) and are not better for the environment than normal plastics. It’s worth noting that there is no mention about reducing plastic consumption (I’m sure the American Chemistry Council would have had a strong opinion if there had been).
- US Coast Guard is allocated $2,000,000 to carry out stipulations of Section 4 (research, infrastructure, etc). I understand why the USCG would be involved, but in particular, the types of research that are being advised don’t seem to fall into their purview. I’m not completely convinced that this is a valid, or just some weird way of pretending to make a difference, while not really doing anything for the environment. But like I said, this is a cynics interpretation.
Feel free to scrutinize the document yourself here.
Or just read the press release here.