Politics blog

Reps. Kilmer, Herrera Beutler team up on bill to boost ocean acidification research

OlympianMay 27, 2014 

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (center) discusses the impacts of ocean acidification on shellfish with Lissa James of Hama Hama Co. and Northern Fish president John Swanes during a visit to the Tacoma-based fish company on May 13.

LUI KIT WONG — The News Tribune / file photo

When U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer was thinking up his proposal to use research prizes, instead of conventional grants to spur additional private research dollars going into the ocean acidification problem, he hoped he could appeal to majority Republicans. His selling point: It didn’t require new tax dollars.

Sure enough, the freshman Democrat’s legislation was introduced late last week with the co-sponsorship of Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Ridgefield. 

The two lawmakers’ districts include the state’s entire exposure along the Pacific Coast, which is already witnessing an impact on oyster growing as the seas begin to sour in part as a result of climate change. One Washington oyster grower has opened a hatchery in Hawaii where waters are more conducive to reproduction of the baby mollusks, and others have learned to adjust the acidity of waters in their hatcheries.

Our story two weeks ago about Kilmer’s bill is here

The two lawmakers put out nearly identical news releases that will be posted here and here, and which say in part: 

Ocean acidification is a rising threat to coastal communities in Washington state. Scientists have found the shells of pteropods are dissolving due to acidification – a key part of the food chain for salmon, herring, and other fish. The shells of shellfish are made of the same components as pteropods, raising concern about future implications on the species.  

Ocean acidification poses a threat to our coastal communities and to key industries in our state,” said Kilmer. “Changes to the ocean chemistry is putting entire livelihoods at risk while endangering the chance for future generations to grow up in a state still connected to a healthy Pacific Ocean. After listening to scientists, fishermen, businesses, and other stakeholders we’ve come up with a unique way to help. Our bipartisan bill is based on a simple idea to help: let’s have experts clearly identify the acidification problem and provide a strong incentive for folks to research and develop ways to solve it.”

 “I’ve heard from shellfish and fishing folks up and down the coast in Pacific County about the trends they are seeing and threats their industries are facing due to ocean acidification,” [Herrera Beutler] said. “We need to understand what is happening and find solutions.”

By Kilmer’s estimate, about $30 million in grants are awarded now for ocean acidification. He thinks his proposal could generate “four to 10 times more value than the amount of the prize’’ – or up to $50 million for a $5 million prize, based on testimony he’s heard during hearings in the House science committee on other research competitions. 

Kilmer and Herrera Beutler, who are running for re-election this year, are touting the importance of the shellfish industry to the region. It is a leading employer in Kilmer’s 6th Congressional District, which includes parts of Tacoma and the Olympic Peninsula, and key oysterlands are on Willapa Bay in Herrera Beutler’s 3rd district.

A November 2012 report by the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification said it provided $270 million in yearly statewide economic value and employed 3,200 people.

Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing that Washington explore some kind of a cap and trade approach to putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions that are helping to drive climate change. Inslee, a Democrat who campaigned on creating a clean-fuels economy, has called ocean acidification the evil twin brother of global warming. 

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