Natural Resources Committee Hears Ocean Climate Action Bill, Debate Ends Without Vote

November 19, 2020 by Reece Nations

WASHINGTON – In a virtual legislative hearing Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee considered legislation introduced by its chairman, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., that would establish an ocean-based carbon sequestration program among other climate change mitigation measures. 

Grijalva’s bill, entitled the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act, endeavors to “fully utilize oceans’ climate mitigation potential,” according to a committee press release. The act would also provide funding for “shovel-ready” coastal restoration and resilience projects. 

The committee’s agenda was comprised of nine pieces of legislation, all of which were related to Grijalva’s bill. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., Seth Moulton, D-Mass., Don Beyer, D-Va., Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla. and Anthony Brown, D-Md., introduced the smaller measures included in Grijalva’s legislation. 

“The bill develops a plan to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030, which is good for everybody,” Grijalva said during the hearing. “A new study finds that expanding existing global marine protected areas by just 5% will improve future fisheries catch by at least 20%. The bill also prepares our fisheries and blue economy for climate change, improves coastal zone management, strengthens marine mammal conservation, and confronts ocean acidification and harmful algal blooms.”

The act would “(create) a pathway forward for renewable offshore energy and enhance national carbon capture and storage in ocean ecosystems,” Grijalva said. 

The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act has been endorsed by Oceana, the Ocean Conservancy, the Center for Biological Diversity and Surfrider Foundation among other stakeholders, according to the committee’s release.

Support and disapproval for the bill fell sharply along party lines as it was debated in the hearing. Ranking Member Rob Bishop, R-Utah, submitted three documents to be added to the hearing’s record: a letter of opposition to the bill signed by 831 fishing organizations, another letter from the “Family Farm Alliance” expressing concerns with the bill’s impact on agriculture, and a third letter from the “Stronger America Through Seafood” expressing similar concerns. 

“The bill authorizes billions in new grants and programs to distract from the economically devastating policies that are also being pushed in this bill,” Bishop said during the hearing. “The majority is pushing a so-called ‘thirty-by-thirty’ ideal, locking up 30% of our oceans by 2030, all under the guise of protecting biodiversity while tackling climate change. The reality is really much different.”

In his remarks, Bishop characterized the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act as “policy that’s woefully misguided,” stressing that the act would not improve fisheries and was detrimental to American fishermen. 

Expert testimony on the bill was given before the committee by Jane Lubchenco, professor of marine biology at Oregon State University, Kelsey Leonard, member of the Mid-Atlantic Committee on the Ocean, Ray Hilborn, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and Kelly Kryc, New England Aquarium’s director of ocean policy.

“Locking up 30% of our oceans does not translate into good stewardship,” Bishop said. “There are better ways of managing our fishery resources.” 

Rather than work to aid the nation’s fishing industry as it continues to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bishop said House Democrats appear more interested in “(putting) fishermen’s livelihoods at risk in the name of faux-conservation.” 

“The more fact-driven, science-based solutions around issues of the environment and man-made climate change are put forth, the better off the American people will subsequently be,” Grijalva said in his remarks during the hearing. 

Grijalva said he plans to reintroduce the act into the House next legislative session with changes generated by the input taken from the committee’s hearing. The meeting adjourned without a vote and no further action was taken on the bill. 

“I think it’s incumbent on us in the House of Representatives at least to lay a template out about [sic] how we need to respond to climate change,” Grijalva said. “This is one of them.” 

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