Lawmakers seek rapid response, funds to clean up tsunami debris
Coast lawmakers have introduced the Marine Debris Emergency Act to help local and state governments respond more rapidly to debris from last year's Japanese tsunami, which poses environmental hazards.
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — The prospect of more debris from last year's Japanese tsunami washing up on the Pacific Coast has triggered a move on Capitol Hill to speed federal aid to states for costly cleanup.
A group of West Coast lawmakers has introduced the Marine Debris Emergency Act to help local and state governments respond more rapidly to the debris, which poses environmental hazards.
The bill comes after a 66-foot-long dock floated onto an Oregon beach, drawing widespread attention and concern. The 1 to 2 tons of marine life clinging to the dock included nonnative species that could threaten local sea life.
The invasive species were killed, and the last pieces of the 188-ton dock were removed 10 days ago, said Chris Havel of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
But concerns remain about debris that is expected to continue to hit U.S. shores for the next several years — and how local and state governments will pay the cleanup costs.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last month announced that it would provide $50,000 each to Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington state and Hawaii to help pay for debris removal.
But Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, last month called the $50,000 for Alaska "woefully inadequate." Alaska plans to spend nearly $200,000 just on a 2,500-mile aerial survey for tsunami debris.
Oregon spent about $85,000 to remove the dock.
NOAA has received hundreds of reports of debris, from bottles to boats, but traced only 10 items definitively to the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. Debris has included a soccer ball found in Alaska and a shipping crate containing a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that washed up in British Columbia.
Havel said more debris is showing up off the Oregon coast.
He said more debris usually turns up in winter.
"We're really eying the coming winter like a stranger in a dark alley. We don't know what's going to jump out and mug us," he said. "It's going to be a significant problem."
The state has set up waste containers along the coast to collect the marine debris.
Before breaking for summer recess, the House approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would provide $4.9 million a year through 2015 for NOAA's overall marine-debris program, not solely for tsunami debris. Supporters of the program hope the Senate will increase funding to $10 million a year.
Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., chief sponsors of the Marine Debris Emergency Act, say they want to give NOAA administrators authority to declare a marine-debris emergency, defined as when debris poses "an immediate threat to the living marine resources, marine environment, navigation safety or public health of the United States and is beyond the scope of state and local government ability to respond," to speed federal aid to states.