USA House of Representatives approves Harmful Algal Blooms Act

12 June 2014

Algal blooms impact on marine and freshwater resources worldwide (Photo: Bill Harding)

Algal blooms impact on marine and freshwater resources worldwide (Photo: Bill Harding)

Good news for research and management of noxious algae in the United States!  This week the US House of Representatives passed Bill S. 1254, which “reauthorizes the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act.  Harmful algal blooms (HABs) occur when colonies of algae grow out of control while producing toxic or harmful effects on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds. The bill maintains and enhances an interagency program led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which will be responsible for promoting a national strategy to help communities understand, predict, control and mitigate freshwater and marine HAB and hypoxia events; enhancing, coordinating, and assessing the activities of existing HABs and hypoxia programs; providing for development of a comprehensive research plan and action strategy, including a regional approach to understanding and responding to HAB events; and requiring an assessment and plan for Great Lakes HABs and hypoxia”.

Ms. Bernice Johnson [ranking member of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology] said in her statement on S.1254, “Harmful Algal Blooms can have serious economic and public health effects. Shellfish beds along the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific Coasts are often closed during a major event to protect the public from significant respiratory distress, shellfish poisoning, and other illnesses. The economic impact these closures can have on the shellfish industry and tourism is quite large. A single event can cost a coastal community tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.  And while NOAA and the research community have made great strides since the establishment of this program the need for continued research and tools to lessen the impact of these events is greater than ever before. More accurate and efficient tools for detecting toxins, early warning of blooms, better predictions of bloom movement, methods for controlling outbreaks, and the development of local and regional partnerships will all allow for a more effective response.”

Subcommittee on Environment Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) said, “Authorization for the programs under the Harmful Algal Bloom Research and Control Act expired in 2010, so this reauthorization is long overdue. The rapid overproduction of algae can have devastating effects on aquatic plants and animals as well as on human health.  For coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems and communities that depend on fishing and tourism to sustain their economies, the effect of algae blooms is a threat to their livelihood. The cost of these blooms has been estimated to be around $82 million dollars each year, a significant hit to the economy in areas that are still struggling to recover.”

Ms. Bonamici continued later during her statement on the House floor, “The bill before us today…will not only improve coordination, but also assess the program’s activities to ensure that we are prepared for these events and are able to respond in an effective manner. This will become increasingly important as coastal populations increase and changes in the environment, such as warmer water temperatures, have the potential to alter the growth, toxicity, and geographic distribution of algal blooms.”

In summary the

Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013 – (Sec. 3) Amends the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998 to revise the membership requirements for the Inter-Agency Task Force on Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia to require the Task Force to have a representative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

(Sec. 4) Requires the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, acting through the Task Force, to: (1) establish maintain, and periodically review a national harmful algal bloom and hypoxia program, and (2) develop and submit to Congress a comprehensive research plan and action strategy to address marine and freshwater harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.

Establishes additional Task Force functions, including: (1) expediting the interagency review process; and (2) promoting the development of new technologies for predicting, monitoring, and mitigating harmful algal bloom and hypoxia conditions.

Requires the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to have primary responsibility in administering the Program.

Establishes the Under Secretary’s duties, including administering merit-based, competitive grant funding to: (1) maintain and enhance baseline monitoring programs established by the Program, (2) support the Program’s projects, and (3) address the research and management needs and the Action Strategy’s priorities.

Requires the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to: (1) research the ecology and impacts of freshwater harmful algal blooms; (2) forecast and monitor event response to freshwater harmful algal blooms in lakes, rivers, estuaries, and reservoirs; and (3) ensure that activities carried under this Act focus on new approaches to addressing freshwater harmful algal blooms and are not duplicative of existing research and development programs authorized by this Act or any other law.

Requires the collection of monitoring and observation data under this Act to comply with all data standards and protocols developed pursuant to the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act of 2009.

(Sec. 7) Requires the Administrator, through the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, to report to appropriate congressional committees and the President on the progress made by activities directed by the Task Force and carried out or funded by EPA and other state and federal partners toward attainment of the goals of the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan 2008 within 12 months after this Act’s enactment and biennially thereafter.

(Sec. 8) Requires the Task Force to: (1) submit within 18 months to Congress and the President an integrated assessment that examines the causes, consequences, and approaches to reduce hypoxia and harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes; and (2) develop and submit to Congress a plan, based on such assessment, for reducing, mitigating, and controlling such hypoxia and blooms.

(Sec. 11) Authorizes the departments and agencies represented on the Task Force to participate in interagency financing and share, transfer, receive, obligate, and expend funds appropriated to any member of the Task Force for the purposes of carrying out the Act.

Subsequent progress of the Bill is shown below.  It has a 14% chance of being enacted:

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