Ocean pollution legislation passes Senate

Legislation aimed at fighting the onslaught of plastic and other ocean debris has cleared the U.S. Senate, with a multi-million-dollar financial component, and it now remains for a companion bill in the House to be approved.

The Save Our Seas 2.0 legislation, which builds on the success of the 2018 Save Our Seas Act, was initially sponsored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. Now its 17 co-sponsors include Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Jeff Merkley, D-Orel, and Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, both D-Hawaii. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore, and Don Young, R-Alaska, co-chairs of the House Oceans Caucus, are among supporters of the House bill.

Sullivan is calling Save Our Seas 2.0 “the most comprehensive marine debris legislation ever to pass the U.S. Senate.”

The financial component of the Senate bill includes components supporting research, global engagement and improved domestic infrastructure to prevent marine debris from getting into oceans in the first place.

One component calls for at least $100,000 in prize money every other year for a genius prize for innovation and new research to tackle and reduce marine debris at the domestic level.

A second component includes formalizing U.S policy on international cooperation, enhancing federal agency outreach to other countries, and exploring potential for a new international agreement on the challenge. The bill would boost from $10 million to $15 million annually the budget for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.

A third component, with a financial package of $95 million annually for five years, would establish domestic grant programs for research to improve the infrastructure for water and waste management. 

The Senate’s action won kudos from Ocean Conservancy, the non-profit entity working to protect the world’s oceans from pollution. With this bill “the Senate has offered a clear signal that ocean plastic pollution is a long-term policy priority for the United States, regardless of party or administration,” said Jeff Watters, senior director of government relations.

“With these added plastics reduction provisions, we believe Save Our Seas Act 2.0 takes several important steps toward the comprehensive, science-based approach needed to tackle ocean plastic pollution and sets the stage for more ambitious action to come.”

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