10.21.19

Statement On Ocean Plastic Pollution

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, oceans, lakes, and rivers across our planet are filled with debris that litters shorelines and threatens public health, navigation safety, wildlife, and the environment. This debris causes serious damage to the health of ocean ecosystems and marine life, and, due to ocean currents, often travels great distances and poses threats to nations that are not responsible for the mismanagement of such waste.

One of the most common forms of marine debris is plastic, which is abundant in our everyday lives, often in the form of single-use packaging. Countless seabirds, sea turtles, seals, and other marine animals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it. And most commonly used plastics never fully degrade, but rather break down into smaller and smaller pieces, known as microplastics, which pose unique problems of their own.

The negative health, environmental, and economic impacts of marine pollution, both to countries that discharge waste and to those on whose shorelines such waste washes up, are steadily mounting. Billions of pounds of plastic and other debris can be found in our oceans and waterways.

In the Senate version of the fiscal year 2020 Department of State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill, which was reported unanimously by the Appropriations Committee on September 26th, the Committee recommended funding to respond to this global threat.

In the bill, the Committee directs the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to redouble their diplomatic and programmatic support for regional and global efforts to address this urgent problem, including through grants, technical assistance, and new multilateral mechanisms, and provides $10 million to support such efforts.

While the funding provided is miniscule compared to what is needed, the Committee’s intent is clear – the United States must increase its leadership and visibility on this issue and become more engaged in efforts to prevent and mitigate the impacts of marine debris.

The Committee recognizes that the United States cannot address this problem alone. Nothing connects countries of the world more than oceans and waterways, and strong international cooperation is necessary to guarantee their conservation for generations to come. It is imperative that the United States increases its engagement both bilaterally and multilaterally to tackle this challenge.

It is not an understatement to say that what I am speaking about – the protection of the oceans, lakes, and rivers of our planet – is essential to our existence. I hope other Senators will join me, Senator Whitehouse, and others who have taken up this cause in calling for additional resources to address ocean plastic pollution.

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