Pingree/Murkowski Bipartisan Bill to Help Coastal Communities Deal With Ocean Acidification

By Ramona du Houx

In March, 2019, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) reintroduced H.R. 1716 the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act, which would require federal officials to work with coastal communities in Maine and around the country to address the impacts of ocean acidification.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

"Climate change and warming temperatures aren’t the only effects of carbon emissions that we have to worry about. Ocean acidification is already having an impact on valuable Maine fisheries,” said Pingree . “I applaud state initiatives in Maine to help local communities deal with ocean acidification, but this multi-state issue deserves federal attention and coordination as well. It's time we gain a deeper understanding of the potential impacts of ocean acidification, so all of our coastal communities can plan for them.”

According to federal and United Nations reports if we don’t mitigate climate change there will be more catastrophic weather events. Two other reports revealed that our ocean temperatures are rising far faster than projected. We now know that Maine's fishing industries are at risk because of climate change. 

 A recent ICCP report confirmed that in 2017 and 2018 CO2 in the atmosphere increased at drastic rates. CO2 rains down into our oceans softening the shells of our crabs, muscles and oysters. Thousands of jobs are at stake as well as our culture, because of this ocean acidification along with rising ocean temperatures.

“If we don’t develop the tools we need to assess and respond, our coastal communities will be hit the hardest by ocean acidification. So much of Alaska’s culture and economy thrive on the many resources that come from the ocean. And the impacts are far reaching –from the potential for fishermen to see a decline in catch, resulting in a loss of revenue and jobs to entire communities whose livelihood relies on subsistence fishing,” said Senator Murkowski.

“The reality is our ocean is becoming more acidic and will impact our ocean resources, coastal communities, and beyond if we don’t take proactive steps to address it. My bill takes important steps in understanding just how ocean acidification is impacting our communities throughout Alaska and steps we need to take to maintain healthy oceans for generations to come.”

Ocean acidification is a product of increased carbon dioxide (C02) in the atmosphere. Much of the C02 released into the atmosphere as greenhouse gas pollution gets absorbed by oceans, where it makes the water more acidic.

This makes it harder for clams, mussels and oysters to fully form their shells. The impact on lobsters is less clear, but there is serious concern that acidification coupled with warming waters could have a significant impact on lobster populations.

Pingree's bill would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to study the socioeconomic impacts of ocean acidification on coastal communities and to work with states like Maine that have already begun conducting research. Under her legislation, the Secretary of Commerce would be required to conduct studies to identify which communities are most dependent on ocean resources and how acidification would affect them if valuable industries like the lobster fishery were impacted.

Pingree's bill is cosponsored by Rep. Francis Rooney, (R-FL), Rep. Don Young (R-AK), Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY), and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA).

In February, Pingree joined a bipartisan list of cosponsors to the COAST Research Act— introduced by Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)—to reauthorize the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) through 2023. The authorization for this important funding lapsed in 2012.