Red Tide Getting the Attention of Congress

In late September the U.S. Senate approved legislation that, for the first time, could open the door to federal assistance for states and local communities hardest hit by toxic algae blooms.

The measure, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and approved unanimously by the Senate, would give the heads of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to declare a severe algae bloom as a nationally significant event, which would make federal resources available to those impacted by the outbreak.

“People come to Florida to enjoy its beautiful beaches and unique environment,” Nelson said in a press release. “When these toxic algae blooms plague our waterways they not only hurt our environment, they hurt our local economies as well. This bill will help make federal assistance available to those hardest hit by these algae outbreaks.”

In Florida last summer, a massive, toxic bloom that began in Lake Okeechobee quickly spread to the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee River causing widespread and severe environmental and economic damage.

To help prevent such outbreaks from happening again, Nelson’s legislation also sets aside an additional $110 million over five years for research into the causes and control of large algae blooms and hypoxia.

Nelson, a long-time champion of efforts in the Senate aimed at curbing the impacts of toxic algae blooms, successfully shepherded a law through Congress in 2014 that authorized $82 million for research to help battle toxic algae outbreaks.

The legislation approved in the Senate now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

In August, U.S. Congressman Brian Mast announced the introduction of the South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act. The bill will amend existing federal law aimed at combatting harmful algal blooms to require the first-ever specific federal assessment and action plan to reduce harmful algal blooms in the Greater Everglades region.

“Considering the massive damage algal blooms have caused in our community, it’s ridiculous that a federal program specifically designed to combat algal blooms has never done an Everglades-specific analysis,” Rep. Mast said. “This bill is a critical first step to developing a comprehensive plan that forces the state and federal government to work together to keep our water clean.”

Congressman Mast also sponsored bills passed in September that included $21.6 million to combat harmful algal blooms and study their health effects.

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