ICYMI: Sullivan, Whitehouse & Menendez Celebrate Passage of Save Our Seas 2.0 Act

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) yesterday held a colloquy on the Senate floor to celebrate Congress’s recent unanimous passage of the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, their legislation, introduced in June of 2019, to address the plastic debris crisis threatening coastal economies and harming marine life. The legislation, which builds on the success and initiatives of the 2018 Save Our Seas Act, now awaits the President’s signature. 

The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act is composed of three main pieces:

  • Strengthening the United States’ domestic marine debris response capability with a Marine Debris Foundation, a genius prize for innovation, and new research to tackle the issue. 
  • Enhancing global engagement to combat marine debris, including formalizing U.S. policy on international cooperation, enhancing federal agency outreach to other countries, and exploring the potential for a new international agreement on the challenge.
  • Improving domestic infrastructure to prevent marine debris through new grants for and studies of waste management and mitigation.

The Save Our Seas 2.0 Act is cosponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Angus King (I-Maine), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), in addition to Senators Whitehouse, Sullivan, and Menendez.


Mr. SULLIVAN. Madam President, I want to talk today with my colleagues Senator Menendez and Senator Whitehouse on a really important piece of legislation that is heading to the President's desk, and this is Save Our Seas 2.0. 

It is the follow-on to the Save Our Seas Act that we passed in the Congress last Congress, and that was an important one mostly about ocean cleanup, but we thought we could do more. We thought, working with different groups--so many groups--and the executive branch, the Trump administration, that we could do a lot more. So we got to work.

I want to thank my colleagues on the floor today--Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Senator Menendez of New Jersey--for their work, their leadership, their cooperation.

Senator Whitehouse in particular I really want to single out as probably the Member of the U.S. Senate who is focused on our oceans. He and I started collaborating on these issues about 6 years ago, right after I first came to the U.S. Senate, and I have learned a lot from Senator Whitehouse on these issues.

We have kind of been an odd couple. We don't always agree on everything politically, but on these issues and a lot of other issues we not only agree but our teams work together, we work together, and, importantly, we are getting a lot--a lot--done. 

There have been a lot of folks who have really helped us in this regard and, again, in a bipartisan way. This bill is an important bill. This bill had three committees of the U.S. Senate and eight committees in the House.

So Members--whether it was Chairman Barrasso and Ranking Member Carper of the EPW Committee, as I mentioned; on Foreign Relations, Chairman Risch; and, of course, Senator Menendez as the ranking member on the Commerce Committee; Chairman Wicker and Ranking Member Cantwell; on the House side, I just got off the phone with the dean of the House, Congressman Don Young, a great, great Congressman; Representative Bonamici. She also has been a great advocate.

We all were aware of the challenge. This is a huge challenge: ocean debris, plastics. It is a gigantic challenge for my State. 

Now, I brag about Alaska a lot. Here is a little bit more bragging: We have more coastline than the rest of the country combined, in terms of their coastline. So we see the garbage. We see the trash. We see it, unfortunately, washing up on the shores of Alaska, and that impacts negatively not just the environment but the economy, our fishing industry, our fishing communities, our coastal communities.

You may have heard about this World Economic Forum study that said if we don't do anything about the pollution challenge that relates to plastics, by 2050 there could be more weight in terms of plastics in the ocean than there are fish. Think about that. That is a challenge.

So we got to work, and here is the thing that I think is so exciting: This is a solvable issue. Estimates are that up to 80 percent of all plastics in the ocean around the globe come from 10 rivers in Asia and Africa. So, of course, it has a huge international component to it.

But I just want to thank both Senators Whitehouse and Menendez. I am going to turn the floor over to Senator Menendez to say a few words on this, particularly the international side, which is so important.

I will talk a little bit more about what is in the legislation, but this is an example--and it happens a lot; we don't always read about it--of this body coming together on big issues and making a big impact.

So Save Our Seas 2.0 is heading to the President's desk. I do want to compliment the President and his team. They had a lot to do with this. They have been very motivated on these issues as well. 

This is everybody coming together to address a problem that we know is a problem but that we can solve, and we are putting American leadership out front, which will be good for Alaska, good for Rhode Island, good for New Jersey, good for America, and good for the world. Senator Menendez.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New Jersey.

Mr. MENENDEZ. Madam President, let me thank Senator Sullivan for his introduction of our efforts here today and to really commend him for working in such a bipartisan spirit to drive an important piece of legislation, to really address the future of future generations of Alaskans, of Rhode Islanders, and New Jerseyans--and Americans, as well as other people across the world.

I agree with Senator Sullivan that Senator Whitehouse's name is synonymous with the oceans and his focus on this is singular and his perspective is of the utmost importance.

I want to rise to join my colleagues from Alaska and Rhode Island to celebrate the enactment of Save Our Seas 2.0 and to thank our colleagues, both in the House and the Senate, for their votes in support of the most comprehensive piece of legislation to address the growing global environmental threat of plastic waste in our oceans. I want to thank Representatives Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon and   Don Young of Alaska for their commitment and leadership in shepherding the bill through the House. 

To my colleagues, Senator Sullivan and Senator Whitehouse, it has been a great pleasure working with you on these issues. The passion, the knowledge, the persistence you have brought to solving the problem of plastic waste in the world's oceans is incredible, and it was essential to our shared success. 

Plastic pollution in our oceans is truly a global problem that literally washes up on New Jersey shores, impacting businesses and communities across our State. This calamity is yet another reminder that Americans are directly impacted by the policies and practices of countries around the world. Plastic debris in our oceans does not respect international borders.

The abundance of plastic waste in our ocean requires comprehensive action alongside the fight against climate change. Save Our Seas 2.0 will bolster U.S. leadership and global engagement to combat plastic waste and marine debris, improve plastic waste management, and enhance marine debris response and innovation. 

As the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I take special pride in the international title of this bipartisan legislation, which formalizes U.S. foreign policy to address this issue, supports USAID's work to curb ocean plastic, and encourages the United States to explore the development of an international agreement to foster cooperation on addressing plastic waste globally. I think this legislation can be the catalyst for that.

The Earth's oceans are a global resource that sustains life everywhere, whether it is your country, State, or district that has a coastline or is landlocked. Eighty percent of New Jerseyans live in a coastal area, and our economy is heavily dependent on these vibrant communities. Families who depend on our fishing, their real estate, hospitality, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries rely upon clean and safe oceans.

These families know that beyond their daily livelihoods, plastic pollution also threatens human health on a global scale. Once in the environment, plastics accumulate in and contaminate both human and animal food chains leading to an array of health risks.

Save Our Seas 2.0 calls on various agencies to research and assess the effects of microplastics and food supplies and sources of drinking water so that we can better understand the way plastic is dangerous to use.

Even at a time--this is where I will close--when Washington seems more politically divided than ever before, SOS 2.0 represents a significant bipartisan environmental victory that I sincerely hope will serve as a stepping stone toward more progress to tackle this growing global problem.

There is no single solution to the marine debris crisis. Ocean stewardship is critical to preventing the collapse of marine ecosystems that support global fisheries that feed billions of people around the world. Addressing plastic waste of the ocean supports economic growth and trade, public health, and safe recreation.

I look forward to building upon the bipartisan support we have achieved with this bill and working with the next administration on ensuring the dutiful execution of the programs we established in SOS 2.0 and securing appropriations in support of the bill's goals and objectives.

Again, with my congratulations to my colleagues and my thanks for the work they have done together, I will yield the floor to our colleague from Rhode Island.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Rhode Island

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, today is a happy day for me to be joining my friends Senator Menendez and Senator Sullivan here on the Senate floor to celebrate the successful conclusion of a second chapter in a long effort to address the problem of ocean plastics pollution, which has been described so well by my friend Senator Sullivan.

When we began, there was actually no program whatsoever on ocean plastics in the Senate. There had never been legislation in this area. With Senator Sullivan's support, we decided to see what the traffic would bear, see what the Senate and the House might tolerate in terms of legislating in a new area. For that, we undertook the Save Our Seas bill. And at the end of the day, after a certain amount of static, actually on both sides of the aisle, we were able to get Save Our Seas passed by unanimous consent. Every single Member of the Senate had to agree to it. To me, that was a really exciting test to the proposition that Senators actually care about this. One of my favorite moments in that whole episode was when a Senator, with whom I am often at war--Senator Inhofe of landlocked Oklahoma--became an ally and a friend and a supporter of Save Our Seas, the original bill. And he did so because he had childhood experiences on the gulf coast with sea turtles that made him care about the plastic that was piling up in the oceans and strangling and drowning sea creatures.

It has, this topic, a gift, I guess, for bringing people together. And based on that success and that unanimous consent--and it cleared the House the same way on what they call suspension over there--we undertook 2.0; 2.0 is going to be bigger, better than 1.0. And it sure is bigger, better. And the role of Senator Menendez in putting some real structure to the international component of this was essential.

Senator Menendez is our ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee. In that role, he was essential in seeing to it that this bill, with such a big Foreign Relations Committee footprint, cleared that committee with momentum and good to go. 

We are now in the happy position that 2.0 has passed as well. It creates a new marine debris foundation. It creates a genius prize for innovation in trying to get rid of or reinvent or reimagine our plastic disposal system. It creates new research to tackle this issue. It focuses more, as I said, directly on our international relations because so much of the marine plastic waste comes out of foreign shores and down foreign rivers. It also focuses on our domestic waste management program.

This is a good step. I have heard people say that 2.0 is not enough. Darn right it is not enough, but this is how you build momentum. You prove that you can do something and that the Senate is willing to act on it. Then, you stand on that platform and you build a bigger, better bill, and you get that passed. And now Senator Sullivan and I are already discussing what 3.0 might look like. 

I am not in a position to speak for Senator Sullivan, but I am interested in looking under the hood of the recycling industry. When you put your plastic waste into a blue bin to go off and get recycled, how much of it actually does get recycled? How can we make sure that there is, in fact, a circle in which plastic gets manufactured, put into use, brought back out of the system, and not left in the ocean, not left as waste on our lands? How can you develop what is called the circular economy for plastic?

Plastic is a weird thing. Nature hasn't seen plastic before. It doesn't biodegrade the way things that were made by the Lord biodegrade. Nothing eats it. If something does eat it, it just piles up in its body or goes through it neutrally. It provides no nutrition or value to anything. It is just this new thing out there. We need to figure out how to deal with it, and we need to get it the heck out of our oceans. 

More to come on this. But let me take this moment to thank Senator Menendez for his leadership, particularly, on the foreign side of this, and Senator Sullivan for his leadership and for being such a terrific ally in this cause.

With that, I yield back.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Alaska 

Mr. SULLIVAN. Let me wrap up here by mentioning that, as we already talked about, the Congressional Research Service has called this the most comprehensive ocean cleanup legislation ever to come out of the Congress. As Senator Whitehouse said, 6 years ago, we were starting at nothing. And then we got Save Our Seas 1.0, primarily about cleaning up our own coastlines. 

There are a lot of funny stories there, but we did have a really interesting--and I thought entertaining--signing ceremony at the White House with the President and Senator Whitehouse. The two hadn't met before. They got along really well, particularly talking about this issue. And it did motivate the Trump administration to start focusing more. You may have seen in the new NAFTA, the USMCA, the first trade agreement has a whole section on ocean cleanup and a whole section on fisheries and sustainable fisheries. This is a really important precedent for the U.S. government, regardless of party. 

As Senator Menendez mentioned, a lot of focus internationally. I want to thank him again, in terms of the Foreign Relations Committee. Our ability to help other countries--we are certainly not perfect, but the big challenge on a lot of the oceans, in terms of cleanup and what comes onto the shores of the United States, what comes onto the shores of Alaska in terms of plastics and pollution, comes from overseas. We need to help there. As Senator Whitehouse also mentioned, improving our domestic infrastructure to prevent marine debris--so we are setting our own example, not just helping other countries--and then enhancing our own domestic response.

Senator Whitehouse mentioned this Marine Debris Foundation. This is a congressionally chartered private organization. There are not many in the country. This is a big deal. Thank the Red Cross. Thank the American Legion. These are congressionally chartered organizations that will give this effort public-private partnership energy to address the problem. That is exactly what we are focused on here, and that is why we thought it was so important to have a Marine Debris Foundation as an enduring element of the U.S. leadership that is now exemplified by Save our Seas 2.0.

I will mention one final thing. You know, one of the things that I thought was very important--we are going to keep this together--is we worked hard not to single out one industry or one area: Hey, you are not doing a good job; you need to get your act together. What we said when we put this bill together is we are going to bring in all the stakeholders--Democrats, Republicans, the executive branch, Federal agencies, industry, key environmental groups, ocean conservancy, World Wildlife Foundation--and get everybody together--the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which is an initiative in the private sector, and say: What can we do together to solve this problem? That is what we did. All the stakeholders came together. Everybody worked closely together, good ideas, pulling on the same oar. And that is how we got this done.

You know, one of our finest Senators, Lamar Alexander, gave his farewell speech just last week, and he talked about this idea of a split screen in the Senate. Yes, there is contention. Yes, there are battles. The media loves to play those up. But there is also another element about what we do here where there is strong bipartisan support on really big issues: the CARES Act, the NDAA, the Great American Outdoors Act--probably the biggest conservation bill in 50 years--21st Century Cures; these are all things that we are getting done here that matter to the American people in a bipartisan way. You don't always read about them in the press, but they are still happening. And now we can add to that list the biggest ocean cleanup legislation in the history of the country going to the President's desk for signing here in the next couple of days. It is something our fellow Americans should know about. And as Senator Whitehouse said, we are going to build on that too.

I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Rhode Island.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, I should add a few other thank-yous because this, obviously, took a lot of effort to get through all these different committees in the Senate and the House and to get it passed on the Senate and House floor. I want to start on the House side, with the equivalent of the Whitehouse-Sullivan show is the Young-Bonamici show on the other side; Representative Bonamici and Representative Young, whom Senator Sullivan mentioned, were the key people working this issue.

I want to thank my delegation,  Jim Langevin and   David Cicilline, because, during key points when it looked like things were jamming up over there, they jumped up with their leadership and with their colleagues to help move things along, and I believe Representative Young did as well. 

I want to thank the majority leader, Steny Hoyer, who at a really critical moment, when this could have gone one way or another, made sure it went the right way and got us teed up to get the thing done in the House and back here where we could move it in the Senate.

In the Senate, I have spoken about Senator Menendez's critical role, but, of course, as chairman, Senator Risch also had to support and permit this to go forward. It had to clear Commerce, where Senator Wicker and Senator Cantwell were supportive and helped move this along. Senator Wicker, indeed, has been a member of our Oceans Caucus from an early stage and has been very helpful on oceans issues. 

Then on our--Senator Sullivan's and my--Environment and Public Works Committee, Chairman Barrasso and our ranking member, Senator Carper, were all very supportive. 

Things like this don't get done without a lot of people pulling together, and I just wanted to make sure that I thanked all of them as I close out here on this subject.

So thank you.


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