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Peters, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Support Great Lakes Debris Cleanup

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S Senator Gary Peters (MI), Ranking Member of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee and a member of the Great Lakes Task Force, joined his colleagues to introduce bipartisan legislation to help address the growing problem of marine debris affecting the Great Lakes and America’s coastlines. The Save our Seas (SOS) Act would reauthorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Program, which removes thousands of tons of debris, such as plastic microbeads, ghost nets, abandoned vessels and other waste, from the Great Lakes and coastal waters every year. Marine debris harms the Great Lakes ecosystem, creates health hazards and threatens the region’s multi-billion dollar tourism, fishing and boating industries.

“Marine debris litters both our ocean coastlines and important inland waterways like the Great Lakes, which is a source of drinking water for 40 million people and a critical economic driver,” said Senator Peters, Ranking Member of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee. “Whether it’s research into the effects of plastic microbeads or cleaning up abandoned vessels and ghost nets, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program helps preserve and protect the unique Great Lakes ecosystem. This bipartisan legislation will help strengthen research and international coordination to ensure that we can safeguard our coastlines and the industries that depend on them.”

Peters joined U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ) Chris Coons (D-DE), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) to introduce the bipartisan legislation.

“The global marine debris problem is nothing short of an epidemic that threatens treasured natural areas, endangers iconic wildlife species, and litter shorelines across the world,” said Senator Sullivan. “It is time for our government to hold the countries responsible for the majority of the debris in our oceans accountable. This bill calls upon the Trump administration to forge alliances with these countries and to stand against the dangerous levels of debris in our oceans and make sure that they do not reach America’s coastlines. I am honored to work on a bipartisan basis in the Senate to provide NOAA with the necessary resources to clean our beaches and protect our coastlines for future generations.”

“Stopping the flow of plastic garbage that fills our oceans and washes up on shorelines is a challenge that requires bipartisan and international cooperation,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I’m glad we can work across the aisle in Congress to help keep debris out of Narragansett Bay and off our beaches and protect the small businesses that rely on a clean and healthy Rhode Island coastline.  We have a long way to go, but this legislation is a start toward research, international efforts, and responsible trade policies that together will help us better care for the world’s oceans.”

“Marine debris is a global issue, but it also hits close to home for Alaskans – which is why I have continuously worked in the Senate to highlight the dangers and impacts of marine debris,” said Senator Murkowski. “With more coastline than the entire Lower 48 combined, massive amounts of debris washing up on our shores threatens our environment and livelihoods. Healthy oceans are vital to a healthy economy and all aspects of our lives in Alaska, and it is essential we address marine debris as quickly as possible. I’m proud this legislation takes important steps to provide the tools needed to tackle this growing problem.”

Intact marine debris from foreign countries travels great distances and poses problems for nations who are not responsible for the mismanagement of the source country’s solid waste. This is particularly true for waterways and coasts in the United States whose shorelines require constant cleanup of foreign-sourced marine debris. Every year approximately 11,000 tons of plastic debris enters the Great Lakes, primarily through Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. Also contributing to the Great Lakes debris problem are building materials, batteries, appliances, fishing gear and abandoned vessels.

NOAA’s Marine Debris Program works with regional partners including the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Partners for Clean Streams, and Sea Grant programs to conduct education, outreach and removal projects to help prevent marine debris from entering the Great Lakes.

The legislation reauthorizes NOAA’s Marine Debris Program through fiscal year 2022 and permits the NOAA Administrator to use funds up to $10 million to assist with marine debris cleanup efforts. The bill also urges the President to work with other countries that produce large amounts of marine debris to find solutions and alternatives to marine waste. The bill also facilitates and encourages international accountability in trade negotiations with relevant partners that produce marine debris.