WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee to pass the Puget Sound Recovery Act of 2009. The bill would establish a dedicated office in the Puget Sound area within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to coordinate the expanded efforts to address pollution impacts on Puget Sound. The new EPA Puget Sound program office will be located within existing Puget Sound Partnership offices throughout the Puget Sound area. Senator Cantwell and Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA-06) first introduced the Puget Sound Recovery Act in 2008.
"Puget Sound is a critical waterway for the health of Washington’s economy and environment,” said Cantwell. "As the second largest estuary in the nation, it is at the heart of both the region’s identity and prosperity. However, Puget Sound is sick, and its troubles threaten everything from animal habitats to tourism to the region’s natural resource industry. Ultimately, the declining health of Puget Sound hurts the state’s environment and economy, and that’s why I’m calling upon this committee to act quickly so we can enact this important measure into law this year.”
The legislation builds upon Puget Sound Partnership clean-up efforts already underway at the local and state levels. The increased Federal response authorized by the Puget Sound Recovery Act will help bring about a comprehensive recovery effort between federal, state, local, and tribal governments. The bill establishes an EPA Puget Sound office that will coordinate with Puget Sound Partnership cleanup actions on the Sound. This includes implementation of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda that the EPA adopted as its Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan for Puget Sound. The bill also authorizes up to $125 million annually in grants to local communities and tribes to address the causes of the Sound’s declining water quality and implement projects to counter these threats.
Puget Sound is home to more than 200 species of fish, 25 species of marine mammals, 100 species of sea birds as well as clams, oysters and shrimp. Scientists have detected low levels of oxygen in the water and concentrations of toxic substances in aquatic animals that live in the Sound. Some of its most iconic resident species – including salmon and orcas – are on the brink of extinction. Up to 70 percent of all its original estuaries and wetlands have disappeared due to urban and agricultural development, and about 8,700 acres at the bottom of the Sound are dangerously contaminated, according to Puget Sound Partnership.
Area congressional representatives from the Puget Sound region – Reps. Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, Brian Baird, Jim McDermott, Dave Reichert, and Adam Smith – all have joined as original co-sponsors of the legislation in the House, and Senator Patty Murray has co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
Attached photo credit to the U.S. Senate Photographic Studio.
Pasted below is a copy of Senator Cantwell’s statement as it was delivered at today’s EPW Committee hearing:
Thank you, Madame Chairman, and thank you subcommittee Chairman Cardin for holding this hearing. This is a very important hearing on the protecting, preserving and restoring great water bodies of the United States, so I appreciate it very much.
Thank you for inviting me to make some comments on my Puget Sound Recovery Act. I would also like to thank Congressman Dicks and Senator Patty Murray for working on this legislation with me. Today you will also be hearing from David Dicks, the Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership, which is the state agency dedicated to Puget Sound restoration.
With 2,500 miles of shoreline and 2,800 square miles of inland marine waters, Puget Sound is the nation’s second largest estuary. The Sound is a cornerstone of the Pacific Northwest's identity and at the heart of the region's prosperity, promoting a thriving marine and natural resource industry. And it is truly one of America's most spectacular bodies of water, home to more than 200 species of fish, 25 kinds of marine mammals, 100 species of birds as well as clams, oysters and shrimp.
But while above the water’s surface we see its breathtaking natural beauty, the reality is that there are great parts of Puget Sound that are not so healthy. Scientists have detected low levels of oxygen and increasing concentrations of toxic substances in aquatic animals that live in the Sound. Some of its most iconic residents – species like salmon and orcas – are on the brink of extinction. Up to 70 percent of all its original estuaries and wetlands have disappeared and about 8,700 acres at the bottom of the Sound are dangerously contaminated.
The declining health of Puget Sound threatens the economy and environmental vitality of the Pacific Northwest. That is why Washington state’s Governor Chris Gregoire, who has testified before this committee several times, has taken steps at the state government level to combat this decline by setting up a Puget Sound Partnership. But now it is time for the U.S. government to match these efforts, with the Environmental Protection Agency taking a lead to create, with the state of Washington, a comprehensive recovery effort for Puget Sound.
Already, we have launched a cooperative effort involving all of the local government entities, as well as the state and federal governments, to
· curtail any harmful substances from being introduced into its waters,
· change unwise industrial and agricultural practices and,
· continue our aggressive research into the causes of pollution in the Sound.
The Puget Sound Recovery Act furthers these efforts by establishing an EPA Puget Sound Office in the state of Washington and coordinating actions among many federal agencies involved in the cleanup, including
· Fish and Wildlife Service,
· Park Service,
· Forest Service,
· Natural Resources Conservation Service,
· The Army Corps of Engineers, and the
· Departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, and Transportation.
In addition, this bill authorizes up to $125 million in annual grants to address the causes of Puget Sound’s declining water quality and implementing projects to counter these threats.
Mr. Chairman, what we are trying to accomplish with the Puget Sound Recovery Act is not a new concept. I know as a resident of the Chesapeake Bay area you understand the Chesapeake watershed, how important this EPA program is and how important a clear federal-state partnership must be if we want to accomplish our goals.
The Chesapeake Bay was the nation's first estuary targeted by Congress for restoration and protection. And since the formation of the Chesapeake Bay Program in the 1980s, it has served as a model for theeffectiveness and the cooperation in the approach to natural resource restoration.
The Bay Program’s partnership model has been recognized and emulated and the program has been a success.
Mr. Chairman, you know that more than 20 years of restoration efforts on the Bay have resulted in generally decreasing trends in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution levels entering the Bay, and so that’s a very important accomplishment.
This is exactly what we are trying to accomplish with Puget Sound as well.
So I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing this bill to be part of today’s hearing and I look forward to working with you and other members of the committee in moving this legislation forward.