Two Ocean Views in Congress

Two very different perspectives on U.S. oceans policy were expressed in the House of Representatives yesterday. First came Ron Klein, a Democratic Representative from Florida, a state that’s almost completely surrounded by salt water.

ron kleinKlein spoke in favor of the renewal and augmentation of the Coral Reef Conservation Act. Originally passed in the year 2000, the act established grants for state and private efforts to conserve coral reefs.

Conservation of coral reefs is an environmentally and economically vital issue, given the essential ecological role that reefs take for life in the oceans. Reefs are in grave danger, from pollution, damaging fishing practices, global warming and ocean acidification. Coral bleaching has increased dramatically in the last generation, and in another generation, a majority of coral reefs may be dead.

Representative Klein is confident that everyone in Congress will see reason, and support the bill to protect corals. “Protecting a national treasure such as coral reefs brings people together because everyone understands their vital importance–Democrats and Republicans alike. That’s why I am confident that we’ll have broad bipartisan support to pass H.R. 860,” he says.

Is Klein’s confidence well-founded? I’m not so sure. Consider what his colleague, Congressman Adrian Smith said the same day.

Representative Smith does not represent a coastal state. He represents Nebraska, which is about as far as it’s possible to get from an ocean in the United States.

Yet, Smith spoke confidently on ocean issues yesterday. Why? He had been invited by an oil company to take a tour of an offshore drilling platform. His reaction: “I saw firsthand the need to take an all-of-the-above approach when it comes to our energy portfolio–an approach which includes developing American offshore energy resources.”

A tour of an offshore oil rig, conducted by the company that runs the oil rig, would not be likely to lead to any other conclusion. Given a lack of other experience with oceans policy, Congressman Smith was easily directed into supporting the fossil fuel industry’s latest complaint: That the Obama Administration is delaying expanded offshore oil drilling by just six months in order to facilitate public comments.

Smith might have come to a different conclusion if he had been taken on a tour of the offshore oil rig in the Timor Sea that has been spilling oil for 33 days straight now, with a total oil spill of somewhere between half a million and 4 million barrels of oil so far, not far from ecologically sensitive coral reefs. That oil rig is a new one – a kind of rig that is supposed to have lots of protections against spills. The fact that one of the supposedly spill-proof offshore drilling platforms has created one of the largest oil spills in history ought to give politicians like Congressman Smith second thoughts.

However, what ought to happen is often exactly the opposite of what does happen in Washington D.C. Only one out of the nineteen cosponsors of H.R. 860 was a Republican – Mark Kirk of Illinois.

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