“The federal government, through the Army Corps of Engineers, has played a huge role in perpetuating the human health crisis caused by Lake Okeechobee discharges and they need to take responsibility for the damage by helping to pay for the cleanup,” Rep. Mast said. “More than that, the government needs to stop prioritizing special interests over human health and put an end to the crisis once and for all. We need to pass this bipartisan bill immediately because our community simply cannot afford to wait any longer for the federal resources needed to fix this environmental disaster.”
In 2016, the State of Florida requested federal assistance related to algal blooms multiple times and was denied. This year, Governor Scott has again declared a State of Emergency, and Rep. Mast has called on the federal government to provide assistance. This bill will build on several bipartisan efforts, including by Rep. Mast and Senator Bill Nelson (FL), to ensure that federal resources are available by authorizing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to declare a “HAB of Significance” when it will have a detrimental impact on a state’s environment, economy, subsistence use or public health. This declaration will authorize the federal government to make federal funding available to state or local governments for the assessment and mitigation of harmful algal blooms.
Additionally, the primary federal program for addressing harmful algal blooms is the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act, but the authorization for that program expires this year. Rep. Mast’s bill will also ensure this program does not expire by extending its authorization for five years. Under the direction of this existing federal law, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science have developed numerous reports over the last two decades researching harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and nationally. However, there has never been an Everglades-specific report. With this extension, the task force would be required to complete an assessment that examines the causes, consequences and potential approaches to reduce harmful algal blooms and hypoxia in the Greater Everglades region, including how ongoing South Florida ecosystem restoration efforts are impacting the distribution of algal blooms.
Finally, the bill expands grant eligibility to include proposals for the intervention and mitigation of harmful algal blooms and also directs NOAA to improve their monitoring of harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.
The text of the letter is below:
Dear Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:
We respectfully ask that you bring H.R. 6645, the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act to the House floor for a vote. This bipartisan bill would help communities better prepare for, mitigate, and respond to harmful algal blooms (HABs).
Harmful algal bloom and hypoxia events threaten the health of our oceans, lakes, and rivers. Our constituents depend on clean and safe marine and freshwater resources and the increasing presence of HABs across the country this year is detrimental to their well-being.
HABs occur naturally, but in response to certain environmental stressors, such as increased nutrient runoff and pollution, changes in water flow, and increased temperatures, colonies of algae can grow excessively and produce toxins. As the algae die and decompose, they consume oxygen, leaving waterways in a hypoxic state that can result in the formation of “dead zones” where marine life cannot survive. This results in significant economic losses for the blue economy, our communities that rely on fishing, shellfish harvesting, and tourism. We must improve our understanding of harmful algal blooms and develop a stronger strategy to help communities better predict and reduce the number of harmful algal blooms and hypoxic events.
Congress has recognized the increasing frequency of harmful algal blooms across all 50 states. The Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act (HABHRCA), enacted in 1998, established an Interagency Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia and authorized funds for research, monitoring, education, and management activities to prevent, control, and reduce HABs and hypoxia. In 2014, the Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a markup on legislation to reauthorize HABHRCA through Fiscal Year 2018. The bill was reported out of the Committee with bipartisan support and was signed into law.
Earlier this year, we introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize HABHRCA through Fiscal Year 2023. Our bill would expand the Interagency Task Force to increase collaboration, and it would establish a process for NOAA and the EPA to declare an “Event of Significance” to allow states and local governments to access disaster funds when hypoxia or HABs will likely have detrimental environmental, economic, subsistence use, or public health consequences. The bill would also establish a process for sustained operational ecological forecast models for HABs and hypoxia in coordination with the Integrated Ocean Observation System regional partners.
Our bipartisan legislation will help communities better protect against and respond quickly to harmful algal bloom and hypoxia events. We ask that you consider supporting this legislation and urge you to act quickly to bring this critical reauthorization to the floor. Thank you for your consideration.