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Begich Calls for Faster Federal Response to Tsunami Debris

Calls on NOAA to focus on clean-up, not just monitoring

Asks Administration for $45 million for effort

 

With the goal of getting answers to how the federal government plans to respond to tsunami debris fouling the shorelines of Alaska and the West Coast, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today chaired a subcommittee hearing that included testimony from the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Following the hearing, Begich spoke with NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco to discuss next steps for addressing the debris, and requested $45 million over two years for clean-up efforts.

“There’s three billion pounds of mostly plastic trash which will flood into our inter-tidal ecosystems and the leading edge of this tide is already here,” Begich said in his opening statement. “That is the purpose of today’s hearing. Given this clear threat, what is our national plan to stem the tide of tsunami debris?”

Begich, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard of the Senate Commerce Committee, presided over the hearing and expressed frustration to NOAA Assistant Administrator David Kennedy over the lack of a clean-up plan.  Begich urged NOAA to shift its focus from monitoring the debris trajectory to clean-up efforts.  Following the hearing, Lubchenco called Begich to discuss ways that NOAA can assist in the clean-up.

To fund the extensive and expensive clean-up, Begich sent a follow up letter to President Obama requesting $45 million to be made available this year and next to community groups to execute the debris clean-up.

“In Alaska we are already seeing the debris beginning to wash up on our beaches and we know this is just the beginning of a slow-motion environmental disaster that will unfold over the next several years,” Begich continued in a letter to the President. “Unlike many disasters which catch us by surprise, we have known this debris was coming since shortly after the tsunami. That is why I am surprised the Administration has not formulated a coherent plan for clean-up.”

The hearing was scheduled in response to marine debris from last year’s tragic tsunami in northern Japan which swept an estimated five million tons of debris out to sea. It is estimated 70 percent sank off shore, leaving up to 1.5 million tons (3 billion pounds) of debris still afloat. 

In recent weeks, such “high windage” items as fishing floats and Styrofoam insulation has washed up in Alaska including on Middleton, Kayak and Montague Islands.  A derelict Japanese squid boat appeared off the coast of Southeast Alaska and was sunk by the Coast Guard as a hazard to navigation. A Harley Davidson motorcycle washed up in British Columbia.

The hearing included testimony from David M. Kennedy, Assistant Administrator, NOAA’s National Ocean Service; and Rear Admiral Cari Thomas, Director of Response Policy for the U.S. Coast Guard.

The senator’s opening statement:

 

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