Bill to Fight Ocean Acidification Passes House

Wednesday, 395 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass bipartisan legislation sponsored by Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-6) to help fight ocean acidification. The Ocean Acidification Innovation Act (H.R.1921), which was also co-sponsored by Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-3), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1), and Don Young (AK-AL), would allow federal agencies to use existing funds to conduct prize competitions to increase the ability to research, monitor, and manage ocean acidification and its impacts.

“We know that changing ocean chemistry threatens entire livelihoods and industries in our state. So, this bipartisan bill is really about jobs,” said Rep. Kilmer.“There are generations of folks in our coastal communities who have worked in fishing and shellfish growing, but that’s endangered if we don’t maintain a healthy Pacific Ocean. This bill creates a strong incentive for experts to focus on developing innovative solutions to this serious challenge. I’m proud that the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act passed the House today and hope the Senate will move swiftly to consider this bill and the other legislation passed by the House today to help combat ocean acidification.”

“Shellfish and fishing industry jobs in Pacific County are jeopardized by the detrimental effects of ocean acidification,” said Rep. Herrera Beutler. “This bipartisan legislation promises to spark innovative solutions to this serious threat facing our coastal communities, and I’m pleased that my House colleagues gave it their strong approval. The next step is approval by the U.S. Senate, and I’ll continue advocating for this legislative approach to protecting fishing businesses and jobs.”

Ocean acidification is a rising threat to coastal communities throughout the Pacific Northwest and growing evidence suggests that acidic ocean conditions harm the ability of many marine organisms to generate shells. These marine organisms, which include oysters, mussels, and pteropods, are a key part of the food chain for salmon, herring, and other fish. In addition, scientists at the University of Washington recently discovered that ocean acidification also threatens the $220 million Dungeness crab fishery, raising serious concerns about future implications for species and ecosystems in the region.  

In Washington state alone, the commercial fishing and seafood processing industries, which includes shellfish aquaculture, contribute 15,900 direct jobs and $9.4 billion in revenue to the economy. According to a report by the Washington Sea Grant in 2015, Washington state is the nation’s leading producer of farmed clams, oysters, and mussels. The Washington Shellfish Initiative estimated that state shellfish growers directly and indirectly employ more than 2,700 people and provide an estimated total economic contribution of $184 million.

The legislation was created in collaboration with key stakeholders, including the XPRIZE Foundation, an innovative non-profit organization that creates public competitions designed to encourage increased investment in solutions to major societal problems. For example, the Ansari XPRIZE awarded for personal spaceflight technology helped launch a brand-new $2 billion private space industry. Research also suggests that prize competitions often increase exponentially the amount of research focused on solving a problem. The Ansari XPRIZE also yielded over $100 million in research as twenty-six teams competed for a $10 million prize. 

Federal agencies have increasingly viewed prize competitions as a means of maximizing the return on taxpayer dollars, leveraging prizes to attract more resources to tackle difficult scientific challenges.

The Ocean Acidification Innovation Act was passed alongside three other bills supported by Rep. Kilmer to help improve the nation’s ability to combat ocean acidification, including:

  • H.R.1237, the COAST Research Act of 2019: Reauthorizes our nation’s investments in ocean acidification and broadens the scope of federal work to better understand the effects from acidification not only in the open ocean but also in the coastal zone.
  • H.R.1716, the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2019: Requires NOAA to conduct vulnerability assessments to identify the coastal communities most vulnerable to the effects from acidification, and to use those assessments to influence federal research and monitoring plans.
  • H.R.988, the NEAR Act of 2019: Authorizes a study by the National Academies of Science to better understand the impacts from ocean acidification in estuaries.

The Ocean Acidification Innovation Act was approved in the House 395-22.