Senate Commerce Committee Passes Lautenberg Measure on Ocean Acidification

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Legislation by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D–NJ) to focus research on rising ocean acidity passed the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today. Ocean acidification harms marine life and poses serious risks to the fishing industry.

“Ocean acidification is a serious threat to our environment and to our marine life,” said Senator Lautenberg. “Changes in ocean chemistry, caused by greenhouse gases, will increasingly affect our food supply and the health of our oceans. But research on ocean acidification is still in its infancy. My legislation would provide the needed research to analyze and address the environmental and economic impacts of ocean acidification.”

Increased carbon dioxide emissions are causing oceans to become more acidic. Ocean acidity has increased 30 percent in the last 100 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA also projects that, by the end of this century, current levels of carbon dioxide emissions would result in the lowest levels of ocean pH in 20 million years.

Oceans require a balanced pH to maintain water quality favorable to marine life. If oceans become too acidic, the shells of scallops, clams, crabs, plankton, corals and other marine life begin to dissolve. In New Jersey, sea scallops and clams are some of the state’s most valuable fisheries, valued at $121 million, according to NOAA.

Lautenberg’s bill, the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act of 2007 (FOARAM), would require a committee of federal agencies led by NOAA to coordinate research and monitoring of acidification of our oceans, develop a national plan to assess the environmental and economic impacts, and recommend solutions. The bill will also establish an ocean acidification program in NOAA – the federal agency with primary responsibility for preserving the health of our oceans and marine life.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Lautenberg with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and is co-sponsored by Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), John Kerry (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Representatives Tom Allen (D-ME), Jay Inslee (D-WA), Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) and nine other co-sponsors.

The bill has received support from environmental and conservation groups including the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Marine Fish Conservation Network, the Climate Institute, Environmental Defense, Gulf Restoration Network, Ocean Conservancy, Coastal States Organization, Oceana, Surfrider Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and World Wildlife Fund.

The bill is also supported by the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education (CORE) representing 95 academic institutions and universities; the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) – the world’s largest professional organization devoted to the study of aquatic science; and the National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML) representing about 120 coastal, ocean, and Great Lakes laboratories.

Earlier this year, Sen. Lautenberg authored a provision in the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill to direct funds to the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study of the acidification of the oceans and how this process affects the United States. Sen. Lautenberg has also authored provisions to research and protect deep sea corals, another habitat threatened by ocean acidification. Those provisions became law in January 2007 as part of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006.

Press release, 4 December 2007.

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