Harmful Algal Blooms, Shark Fins, And The U.S. Coast Guard

2017-05-22T12:36:35+00:00 May 22, 2017|
Atlantic shortfin mako shark in the north atlantic at Condor Bank, Azores (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

(Click to enlarge) Atlantic shortfin mako shark.
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

What do harmful algal blooms (HABs), the U.S. Coast Guard, and shark fins have in common? Last Thursday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved by voice vote bills regarding each of them.

The bipartisan Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2017 (S.1057) would reauthorize the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act, which was first enacted in 1998 and reauthorized in 2004, 2008, and 2014. The reauthorization would make areas hit by HABs eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief. The bill allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to (using criteria such as toxicity, potential to spread, economic impact, and geographic scope) declare a HAB an “event of national significance,” or one with significant economic, public health, or environmental impacts. Funds can then be made available to the state or local government to assess and mitigate the environmental, economic, social, and public health effects of the bloom. Additionally, the bill authorizes an annual $22 million from Fiscal Years (FY) 2019 through 2023 for HABs research.

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2017 (S. 1129), which normally receives bipartisan support, came under fire from Democrats concerned with language similar to the Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (S. 168). The amendment to the reauthorization bill would set a national standard for ballast water discharges that is less strict than current federal and state standards. Additionally, the responsibility of regulating these discharges would move from the EPA to the Coast Guard. Supporters claim maintaining one discharge standard will help clarify a confusing patchwork of regulations. Conversely, Senators Maria Cantwell (WA) and Gary Peters (MI) expressed concern about invasive species introductions, and Senator Tammy Baldwin expressed hesitations due to impacts to coastal communities, such as reductions in drinking water quality. Chairman John Thune (SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (FL) have said they will work to reach a compromise before the bill goes to the Senate floor. The bill authorizes $7.3 billion and nearly $7.6 billion for FYs 2018 and 2019, respectively.

Finally, the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act of 2017 (S. 793) would, exactly as its name suggests, eliminate the trade of shark fins in the U.S. While the first two bills would authorize funds, it is important to remember that the allocation is left to the appropriations committees. The release of the president’s budget on Tuesday will provide fresh insights into the White House’s budget priorities, the first major step in the appropriations process for FY 2018.