Marco Rubio’s, Brian Mast’s South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act Gains Momentum in Congress

Now in his second term on Capitol Hill, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., scored a win this week as his “South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act” cleared the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee–while a fellow Florida Republican helped amend it to include the Indian River Lagoon.

According to the congressman’s office, his proposal “will amend existing federal law aimed at combating harmful algal blooms to require the first-ever specific federal assessment and action plan to reduce harmful algal blooms in the Greater Everglades region.”

Mast weighed in after the committee voted to support his bill.

“Since introducing this bill, we have made great progress toward bringing real operational change to the way Lake Okeechobee is managed. Thanks to our efforts to lower Lake Okeechobee this winter, our communities are being spared toxic discharges that contain harmful algal blooms this summer,” Mast said on Wednesday. “But the reality is that these algal blooms on Lake O are still toxic.  It’s ridiculous that a federal program specifically designed to combat harmful algal blooms has never done an Everglades-specific analysis.  So that’s exactly what we’re going to do with this bill: the first-ever specific federal action plan to combat harmful algal blooms in Florida.”

The proposal amends the “Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act.” At the end of last year, Mast and then U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., were able to get Congress to reauthorize that program and federal funding. President Donald Trump signed Mast’s and Nelson’s proposal into law at the end of last year.

“Under the direction of this existing federal law, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science have developed numerous reports over the last two decades researching harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and nationally. However, there has never been an Everglades-specific report,” Mast’s office noted.  “The South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act directs the task force to complete an assessment that examines the causes, consequences and potential approaches to reduce harmful algal blooms and hypoxia in the Greater Everglades region, including how ongoing South Florida ecosystem restoration efforts are impacting the distribution of algal blooms. Based on the assessment, the task force is then directed to submit a plan to Congress for reducing, mitigating and controlling harmful algal blooms in the Greater Everglades region.”

With Nelson now out of the Senate, Mast has turned to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to champion the bill in that chamber.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., signed on as a cosponsor of Mast’s bill back in January. Earlier this month, Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Bill Posey and Francis Rooney became cosponsors.

U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., is also behind the proposal and the committee adopted his amendment to the bill to include the Indian River Lagoon in the bill.

“As Floridians, water is integral to our way of life,” Waltz said. “I’m thankful for the leadership of Rep. Mast, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who have all made clean water a priority. This is a statewide issue affecting many areas in Florida, including the St. Johns River in my district and the Indian River Lagoon. If we want to keep our waterways beautiful, we must act to protect them.”

“Communities across Florida continue to be impacted by harmful algae bloom outbreaks. Congress must act to focus federal resources on understanding both our blue-green algae and red tide problems, as well as developing an Action Plan with the state to help develop a roadmap to solve these challenges,” Rubio said. “I commend Congressman Mast, who is leading the companion bill to my South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act, Congressman Waltz, and members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee for taking action so that we can meet these challenges with the resources they require.”

 

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

 

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