Last night, Patrick Collins and I got to spend some time with Congressman Bart Gordon (D-TN), an Ocean Champion, and the Chair of the House Science and Technology committee. We wanted to meet because Congressman Gordon’s committee has jurisdiction over a Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) bill we want to get passed in this session. Before talking about the meeting, a quick departure on HABs and the HABs bill.
Harmful Algal Blooms are a big problem in the U.S. Their growth is driven by many factors, including light, temperature, salinity and nutrient levels in the water. Some algae are benign, but others have toxins that can kill fish, shellfish, mammals and birds. These algae can also cause human illnesses, including respiratory and neurological problems that are sometimes fatal. In addition, the resulting algae decomposition that follows a bloom can deplete oxygen in the water and create the infamous “Dead Zones” that further destroy marine life. Clearly, HABs are not our friends!
Last year, two of our Champions in the House (Castor and Mack) and two in the Senate (Snowe and Nelson) introduced HAB legislation. The House version focused on research and planning for remediation, while the Senate version also authorized funding for mitigation.
This year, we’ve been working broadly with our Champions, key committee staff and senior appropriators to help move the bill. We expect the Senate version (which we hear includes mitigation and is stronger than last year’s) to drop any day. Congressman Baird (D-WA), who chairs the subcommittee on Energy and Environment which will initiate the House version of the bill, is an enthusiastic supporter, and is willing to expedite the process by working with the Senate version. So, we were very interested in hearing what the committee Chair thought.
Well, I’m happy to report that Congressman Gordon is also a fan of the HABs bill. He was very familiar with it, knew the status of the Senate version, and confirmed our impression that it was a priority of Mr. Baird’s. Congressman Gordon also said he was happy to work with the Senate version, and that it was under consideration for a hearing in his committee. Now, it’s VERY hard to pass legislation, and problems can arise out of nowhere to derail your efforts, but with support from key Champions like Mr. Gordon, we’re becoming cautiously optimistic.
I’d also like to pass along that I was very impressed with Congressman Gordon. He was engaging and truly interested in the thoughts and ideas of the people in the room. He spent a lot of time asking questions, but when he spoke, he showed depth and comfort with a wide range of issues, and was unafraid to share his opinions on complex problems. All in all, it was a great meeting.