Democrats, in their recapture of the U.S. Congress in 2006, portrayed themselves as champions of science-based policy and conservation. In their four years in power, how well have they kept that promise? Not well, if the example of sea otters are to be any measure.
In 2009, soon after the Democratic Party gained control of the presidency, Representative Sam Farr and Senator Barbara Boxer introduced H.R. 556, the Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Research Act. The legislation, if passed, would establish a research and recovery program to assist the troubled populations of sea otters living along the coast of California.
The House of Representatives passed the bill last year, and it was hoped that the Senate would soon follow suit. The Senate has not followed suit.
Senator John Rockefeller has blocked the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Rockefeller chairs that committee, and controls which bills are considered, and which bills are ignored. Rockefeller’s committee hasn’t lifted a finger to move the Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Research Act along.
Why? Senator Rockefeller represents West Virginia. What could he possibly have against sea otters in California?
I can’t look inside Rockefeller’s mind, so I can’t say for sure what’s motivating him. However, I can observe that Rockefeller has a strong political allegiance with the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry may also regard H.R. 556 as quite troublesome to their efforts to maintain drilling for oil along the California coastline.
You see, the legislation requires study of the “effects and sources of pollutants, nutrients, and toxicants on southern sea otters and sequestration of contaminants.” The bill then would put in place “reduce, mitigate, or eliminate potential factors limiting southern sea otter populations that are related to human activities,” based on the research.
So, H.R. 556 would require oil companies currently operating along California’s coast to clean up their operations and work to ensure reasonable protection of California’s coastal ecosystems. As we’ve seen in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore drilling operations aren’t in the habit of working in ways that ensure the environmental integrity of marine ecosystems.