Marco Rubio Gets Coral Reef Conservation Act Through the Senate

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was able to get his bill updating and reauthorizing the “Coral Reef Conservation Act,” which expired 15 years ago, through the U.S. Senate this week–and now the action turns to the U.S. House in the final days of the current Congress.

Back in the summer of 2019, Rubio, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., joined with U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hi., U.S. Sen. Mazi Hirono, D-Hi., and U.S. Jenniffer González-Colón, R-PR. to bring out the “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act” to reauthorize the old law. Other backers include U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hi.

Rubio is the chief sponsor in the Senate while Soto introduced it in the House.

“The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act authorizes five years of directed federal funding and technical assistance to states for the restoration and management of coral reef ecosystems, encourages innovative new Coral Reef Stewardship Partnerships among resource management agencies, research centers, and community stakeholders, and codifies and updates the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force,” Rubio’s office noted.

The legislators from Florida weighed in on the bill when they first introduced it.

“This important bipartisan bill will ensure federal agencies are partnering effectively with state and local governments, as well as the communities who rely on the vitality of these critical habitats. Florida’s Reef Tract is an integral component of the economic and ecological character of Florida, and the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2019 will ensure future generations will be able to enjoy this natural wonder,” Rubio said.

“People from across the world come to Florida because of the state’s natural beauty. During my eight years as governor, Florida’s annual investments to preserve the environment increased by $1 billion to make sure future generations can enjoy all that Florida has to offer. Today, I’m proud to join Senator Rubio, Senator Schatz, Senator Hirono and our colleagues in the House to introduce the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2019, which will build on our efforts and help restore and protect our coral reef ecosystems,” Scott said.

“Our Florida coral reefs are a national treasure that contain part of the most diverse ecosystems on earth,” Soto said. “We’ve witnessed how the effects of climate change, overfishing, pollution, and development have threatened the vitality of coral reefs around our coasts. Protecting our environment, specifically preserving the precious habitats for marine life, should not have an expiration date. That’s why this bipartisan legislation is key to reauthorizing existing federal programs and continue the desperately needed programs halting deterioration of coral reefs. Floridians’ quality and way of life are dependent on the health of our environment.”

“I firmly believe in the need to restore and preserve our natural resources, including reef ecosystems. Reefs serve as natural barriers against storms and flooding thus working as a shield to our coastal zones. Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused huge devastation in Puerto Rico but we must continue to recover and ensure we take preventive measures for future weather events. The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act would provide the necessary assessment, reporting and funding needed to ensure rapid response to help protect vulnerable coral reefs in the event of another natural disaster,” González-Colón said.

The proposal garnered the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state leaders.

“Florida depends on our coral reefs. Not only are they essential to the health of our marine ecosystem, they are vital to coastal resiliency, stand as the first line of defense against storm surge in Southeast Florida and play a key role in our tourism economy,” said DeSantis on Friday. “I applaud Senator Rubio’s advocacy for this important resource and look forward to the opportunity this support would provide to help preserve, sustain and restore the condition of Florida’s coral reefs.”

“The health of Florida’s reefs safeguard our state against extreme weather, shoreline erosion, and coastal flooding,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Sec. Noah Valenstein. “DEP is fully committed to supporting coral rehabilitation efforts such as the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act. Looking ahead, we want to know we have done everything in our power to address this problem for generations to come.”

“The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act is a solution to a very real problem,” said Robert Spottswood, the chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “Florida’s precious coral reef tract is in dire need of restoration and rehabilitation. We are running out of time and are in danger of losing this wonderful natural resource. The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act would create unique partnerships by allowing local, state, and federal government officials to work with the best and brightest minds from nonprofit organizations in a collaborative effort to tackle this problem immediately and save our coral reef tract.”

This week, Rubio was able to get his proposal through the Senate on a voice vote. Rubio and other Senate backers weighed in on the bill after it cleared the chamber.

“I saw the devastated condition of our coral reefs firsthand when touring the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and I promised a comprehensive response,” Rubio said. “I am grateful the U.S. Senate came together to pass this important and bipartisan bill that will ensure federal agencies are partnering effectively with state and local governments, as well as the communities who rely on the vitality of these critical natural treasures in Florida.

“I urge my colleagues in the House to pass this bill,” Rubio continued. “We must protect and restore this integral component of the economic and ecological character of Florida, and ensure future generations will be able to enjoy this natural wonder.”

“Ocean warming and acidification have pushed our corals to the brink of extinction,” Schatz said. “Time is running out, but we can save them if we act now. Our bill deploys federal resources to the local governments and community organizations that are in the water right now working to restore our reefs.”

“During my eight years as governor, Florida’s annual investments to preserve the environment increased by $1 billion,” Scott said. “As senator, I was proud to build on our efforts to protect our environment by joining Senator Rubio and my colleagues to introduce and pass the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act. People from across the world come to Florida because of the state’s natural beauty, and I will keep working to preserve Florida’s environment for generations to come.”

“In Hawaii, healthy oceans and coral reefs are critical to our way of life,” Hirono said. “This bipartisan bill provides much needed resources to help our communities preserve and improve coral ecosystem health, and includes my coral reef prize competition, a provision I have introduced over the last three Congresses. I am proud that the Senate has passed our bipartisan bill and look forward to seeing this become law.”

Now the action turns to the House where the bill has not gained much momentum. At the start of August 2019, the bill was sent to the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee which, later that month, sent it to its Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

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