The Future Caucus helps to Protect Estuaries
February 5, 2020
H.R. 4044, the Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act, passed the House of Representatives on February 5, 2020 by a 355–62 vote. The bill was authored by Congressman Tom Malinowski (D-NJ-7) and cosponsored by Congressional Future Caucus members on both sides of the aisle, including Reps. Garret Graves (R-LA-6), Derek Kilmer (D-WA-6), Joe Kennedy (D-MA-4), Brian Mast (R-FL-18), and Eric Swalwell (D-CA-15).
H.R. 4044, the Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act, passed the House of Representatives on February 5, 2020 by a 355–62 vote. The bill was authored by Congressman Tom Malinowski (D-NJ-7) and cosponsored by Congressional Future Caucus members on both sides of the aisle, including Reps. Garret Graves (R-LA-6), Derek Kilmer (D-WA-6), Joe Kennedy (D-MA-4), Brian Mast (R-FL-18), and Eric Swalwell (D-CA-15). The goal of the legislation is to reauthorize and revise the National Estuaries Program, which provides grants to restore or protect estuaries “of national significance” in the United States. Estuaries are defined by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee report on the bill as areas where freshwater streams or rivers mix with saltwater from oceans.
The bill expands the scope of the National Estuaries Program by including as qualifying participants projects that address coastal resiliency, “emerging” issues that threaten the well-being of estuaries, stormwater runoff, and accelerated land loss. Through the program reauthorized in this bill, decision makers would be required to address the effects of extreme weather events on estuaries and would be encouraged to increase public education and awareness about estuaries and their critical importance to coastal ecosystemsecostystems. Under previous authorizations of the program, nonprofit organizations were not permitted to participate in management conferences about the estuaries organized by the Environmental Protection Agency — that changes under this legislation. This reauthorization includes a $50 million appropriation per year through fiscal year 2026, an increase from the $26.5 million annually it was scheduled to receive through fiscal year 2021.
The committee report on the bill underscores the need for legislation protecting estuaries in the United States by emphasizing the numerous industries that rely on estuarial waters, including fishing, recreation, tourism, general shipping, and transportation. Estuaries are under great stress today due to human pollution, shoreline erosion, and damage to infrastructure. In a press release issued upon passage of the bill, Congressman Malinowski said, “Estuaries nurture a vast amount of marine life, filter pollutants from rivers before they reach the sea, and are the natural infrastructure that protects human communities from floods and storms…. I’m happy that Congress is acting with strong bipartisan support to protect these critical waterways and the Americans who depend on them.” Rep. Graves was also quoted in the press release celebrating the protection of these important economic drivers, pointing out that they are also “beautiful landscapes with unparalleled ecological diversity, promoting the success and sustainability of commercial and recreational fisheries across the nation.”
This bill sits at the crossroads of environmental and infrastructure legislation, showing how the two are inseparably intertwined. The bipartisan collaboration on this issue is promising in that it demonstrates a way forward on topics that can sometimes be seen as dominated by one party or the other.
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