Congress has finally passed a long-awaited supplemental appropriations bill to bring relief to those affected by Superstorm Sandy and to promote better preparedness for future disasters.
On top of the $9 billion agreed to in early January for direct flood insurance claims, the supplemental provides $50 billion for community rebuilding and future storm readiness, as well as a small amount in fisheries disaster relief. Despite a push from coastal Members to increase the fisheries funding, the final bill included only $5 million for communities affected by Sandy-related fisheries disastersâ€”a far cry from the $150 million that the Senate originally approved in November.
Mondayâ€™s passage wraps up a months-long fight between the Senate and House largely over the billâ€™s price tag. The original Senate-approved bill totaled $64 billion, including funding for flood insurance, rebuilding, and the fisheries disaster relief, among other things.
The bill also stipulated that the $150 million in fisheries relief would be available for all fisheries disasters that the Commerce Secretary officially declared in 2012, not just those related to Sandy. These included the Northeast groundfish, Alaska pollock, and Mississippi oyster fisheries, each of which suffered from other natural disasters in 2012. The House balked at including non-Sandy-related relief, along with the overall cost, and ultimately punted the bill to the new Congress.
When the new Congress took up the bill on January 3, the fisheries disaster funding quickly became a target for elimination. Rep. Randy Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) proposed limiting the fisheries aid to $5 million, sparking outrage from colleagues who represent fishing communities along the Atlantic coast. Reps. Edward Markey (D-MA), John Tierney (D-MA), and others attempted to restore the fisheries aid to the Senate-passed level, but House Republicans opposed their efforts. In the end, the House agreed only to the $5 million, leaving it up to the Senate to decide whether to fight for additional funds. And despite opposition from a number of coastal Senators, the Senate agreed to the House-passed billâ€”including the $5 million in fisheries aidâ€”in order to finalize the package and get the long-awaited relief to those in need.
Oceana supported this fishery disaster funding to support struggling fishing communities and to help coastal communities rebuild, provided that the funds do not facilitate activities that jeopardize ocean health. According to federal guidelines, fishery disaster funds can be used to repair or restore fishing equipment and infrastructure, compensate for losses, restore fisheries habitat, support workforce education, provide low-interest loans, and conduct monitoring and cooperative research focused on improving stock assessments. They cannot be used to support activities that would jeopardize the health of the fisheries.
Big news for offshore wind in Congress today! The Senate Finance committee just voted on a tax package that includes a one-year extension of the investment tax credit (ITC) for offshore wind.
Weâ€™ve been working on this for a long time, so itâ€™s very satisfying that the ITC was included in this package. Weâ€™re now in very good shape to be included in the final package that will (hopefully) be voted on by the full Senate after Novemberâ€™s elections.
So why are we so concerned with getting the ITC extended? Because one of the biggest impediments to offshore wind development is financing, and the ITC can help incentivize investment in these expensive but beneficial projects.
Offshore wind farms will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to finance without an extension of the ITC. As it stands now, the ITC for offshore wind expires at the end of 2012, which is why itâ€™s so important to get this critical tax incentive extended.
Extending the ITC would send a clear signal to investors that America is open for business and committed to producing clean and domestic energy. Todayâ€™s vote in the Senate Finance committee brings us one step closer to achieving that goal.
Why is Oceana such a strong advocate for offshore wind, anyway? Here are a few big reasons:
- Because we have seen the damage that drilling for and burning fossil fuels can do to the health of the oceans and marine life, and we must find a better way to satisfy our energy needs.
- Because windmills harness a clean and infinite source of energy, while eliminating the risk of deadly oil spills and creating three times as many jobs as traditional fuel industries.
- Because we believe that the environmentally safe and responsible development of offshore wind is one of the best chances we have as a country to end our addiction to fossil fuels and to finally stop the dangerous practice of oil and gas drilling in our oceans.
- Because we believe that, if sited correctly, offshore wind could be the ocean-based part of the solution to climate change and its "evil twin," ocean acidification.
Itâ€™s an exciting time in the world of offshore wind and weâ€™re thrilled to be a part of the action!
Nancy Sopko is an Ocean Advocate at Oceana.
Congress took a strong step forward today in the fight against illegal fishing, as Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) introduced legislation to fight this growing global problem that threatens our oceans, honest fishermen and seafood consumers worldwide.
The bill is cosponsored by Representatives Frank Guinta (R, NH-01), Sam Farr (D, CA-17), Gregorio Kilili Sablan (D-MP), Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), and Donna Christensen (D-VI).
The legislation, titled the â€śIllegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act,â€ť would provide the U.S. with critical tools to better monitor and track pirate fishing vessels, enforce penalties against those vessels, help prevent illegal product from entering the U.S. market, and protect endangered or threatened species from further depletion. The bill is the companion to S. 52 in the Senate, which was introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last May.
Illegal, or pirate, fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching species that may be threatened or endangered. Because this fishing is unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess the true impact on our oceans. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates, however, that pirate fishing results in global economic losses of between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for as much as 40% of the catch in certain fisheries.
Weâ€™ve made a lot of progress in curbing overfishing in the past few decades â€“ but that progress could be unraveled if several dangerous new bills make it through Congress.
On December 1, the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to examine eight pending fisheries bills, many of which seek to undermine the nationâ€™s foremost fisheries management law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), and roll back decades of progress in rebuilding depleted fish populations.
Among the bills under consideration are the â€śFishery Science Improvement Act of 2011â€ť (H.R. 2304), the â€śFlexibility and Access in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2011â€ť (H.R. 3061), and the â€śAmerican Angler Preservation Actâ€ť (H.R. 1646).
Since 1976, the MSA has helped reverse the dangerous decline in U.S. fisheries that resulted from decades of overfishing. Under its reauthorization in 2006, fisheries managers are now finally required to implement specific measures by the end of 2011 to ensure that overfished stocks can adequately rebuild.
These bills, erroneously disguised as â€śimprovements,â€ť would significantly weaken the law that has successfully governed federal fisheries management for thirty-five years by relaxing many key requirements of the law. Collectively, these bills threaten to undo much of the progress we have made in rebuilding depleted populations.
Andy Sharpless is the CEO at Oceana.
What will lower your gas prices at the pump?
If you were to listen to national politicians and the marketing of the oil and gas industry, they would tell you that increased domestic drilling will lower your gas prices â€“ and that tax breaks for oil companies will help get us there.
But this simply isnâ€™t true, and itâ€™s been proven time and time again. Oil is a global commodity hunted and extracted by multinational corporations who will sell the oil to the highest bidder, not simply to the citizens of the country where the oil was found. Whatâ€™s more, the U.S. is a relatively oil-poor country â€“ estimated to have 2 percent of world oil reserves â€“ so even extracting all its oil resources will affect pump prices only by pennies, and will take a decade to be realized.
The oil industry is currently enjoying $4 billion a year in tax breaks from the U.S. government. Surging profits this year for the industry â€“ up 74 percent to more than $100 billion â€“ show that it could easily pay its fair share of taxes. Even if we werenâ€™t currently having a national conversation about balancing the federal budget, this policy is not sensible.
So it was with pleasure last week that I stood outside the U.S. Capitol along with five U.S. senators, six representatives and the Sierra Club to speak out against tax subsidies for oil companies.
By ending billions in tax breaks for oil companies, the U.S. government will protect American taxpayers as well as our beaches, paving the way for a clean energy future.
We'll continue to fight for this crucial change. Your support makes it possible.
Yesterday Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless joined members of Congress and other clean energy advocates in urging an end to oil industry tax breaks and subsidies.
The five biggest oil companies â€“ including Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil -- took in 70 percent more profit this quarter than they did in the same quarter in 2010, and their earnings for 2011 are projected to go up by 74 percent to $132 billion. And yet U.S. policymakers have consistently voted to continue tax breaks and subsidies for these corporations.
In other words, we are essentially paying these companies to take big risks in our oceans. Whatâ€™s wrong with this picture?
As Sharpless noted, ending these tax breaks will protect vital economic programs for hard working Americans and veterans, while reducing the federal deficit. â€śEnding giveaways to oil companies is a no-brainer,â€ť Sharpless said. â€śOil companies should pay their fair share of taxes like the rest of us â€“ they doggone sure have the money.â€ť
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), one of the speakers at yesterdayâ€™s press conference, has been a longtime leader in the fight to close tax loopholes for Big Oil. Just last month, Sen. Menendez led a letter with 13 Senate colleagues to the The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, often called "the Supercommittee," urging consideration of his â€śClose Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act.â€ť The bill calls for the elimination of more than $21 billion in oil subsidies. The bill received a majority vote in the Senate but did not pass due to a Republican filibuster.
â€śIsnâ€™t it time we asked Big Oil â€“ the folks who made $100 billion in profits so far this year â€“ to pay their fair share?â€ť Menendez said.
We couldnâ€™t agree more.
The Obama Administration has proposed cutting harmful oil and gas subsidies by $4 billion per year. The Presidentâ€™s proposal would net over $40 billion over 10 years.
Weâ€™ll continue the fight to end these harmful subsidies and promote investment in clean energy. Thanks as always for your support and stay tuned! (In the meantime, you can check out more photos from yesterday's presser.)
Last night in his State of the Union address President Obama said, "instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's." Now it's time for Congress to heed that call and do its part.
Big Oil rakes in obscene profits each year as a result of billions in taxpayer subsidies. It's time to stop this.
President Obama's stated goal is for 80% of America's electricity to come from clean energy sources by 2035. Our oceans can be part of the solution.
A recent Oceana report showed that offshore wind can provide domestic energy that is cleaner and more sustainable than offshore drilling, while creating permanent jobs and strengthening our economy. The report shows that offshore wind developments off the U.S. Atlantic coastline could create between 133,000 and 212,000 jobs per year right here in the United States. That's more than three times the jobs estimated to be created by expanding offshore oil and gas.
In a culmination of years of work by Oceana and our allies, Congress has ended shark finning in U.S. waters with the passage today of the Shark Conservation Act.
This morning the U.S. House approved the Senate version of the Shark Conservation Act (passed yesterday), which now goes to President Obama to be signed into law.
Shark finning is the brutal practice of slicing off a shark's fins, often for use in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. The shark -- sometimes still alive -- is thrown back into the water to bleed to death. In addition, without the fins attached, many sharks canâ€™t be identified, which further impedes management.
Sharks have been swimming the worldâ€™s oceans for more than 400 million years and as apex predators, they play a vital role in maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems. But due to their slow growth rate and low level of reproduction, sharks are especially vulnerable to pressure from human exploitation. Many shark populations have declined to levels where they are unable to perform their roles as top predators in the ecosystem.
This is an enormous victory for sharks and for the oceans. Huge thanks to all of you who have taken action over the years to help make this happen! You can thank your Representatives and Senators for protecting sharks, too.
Yet another victory today, if you can believe it. In a last minute vote, the U.S. Senate passed the Shark Conservation Act, which will end shark finning in U.S. waters.
Each year, commercial fishing gear kills more than 100 million sharks worldwide â€“ including tens of millions for just their fins, for use in shark fin soup. Landing sharks with their fins still attached allows for better enforcement and data collection for stock assessments and quota monitoring.
The Shark Conservation Act improves the existing law originally intended to prevent shark finning, and it also allows the U.S. to take action against countries whose shark finning restrictions are not as strenuous. The passage of this bill signals the U.S.â€™s ongoing commitment to shark conservation.
Only one step stands in the way of this bill becoming law -- it returns to the House for one final vote to accept the Senateâ€™s version of the legislation. Weâ€™re almost thereâ€¦
Thanks to all of you who helped us -- and the sharks -- get this far!
You know that sharks are in trouble around the world. Their populations are crashing as a result of overfishing, shark finning and bycatch, and the oceans are suffering as a result.
So this shark week, what can you do to help save sharks? Here are five ways. Have other suggestions? Let us know in the comments.
The Shark Conservation Act would end shark finning in U.S. waters and make us world leaders in shark conservation. Tell your Senators to support shark protections by passing this bill.
Not only is it ecologically irresponsible to serve shark meat, it is also unhealthy. Since they are at the top of the ocean food chain, sharks bioaccumulate high amounts of mercury. For women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, this is especially dangerous. The bottom line? Stay away from shark meat.
Yes, sharks can be soft and cuddly -- when you adopt one from Oceana. When you adopt a hammerhead shark, youâ€™ll receive a hammerhead stuffed animal with a personalized adoption certificate, and your donation will help our work to protect them.
There are dozens of species of sharks, from toothy great whites to filter-feeding whale sharks. The more you learn about these creatures, the more you will love them. So educate yourself and your loved ones -- especially the shark-fearing ones.
As our shark spokeswoman, January Jones, said in her PSA, we shouldnâ€™t be scared of sharks, we should be scared for them. Spread this message on Facebook and Twitter -- and any other way you know how.