Chair McCollum Statement at Hearing on Impacts of Marine Debris on Ecosystems and Species

2019-09-19 10:27

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chair of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the impacts of marine debris on ecosystems and species:

Good morning, this hearing will now come to order.

Today, the Interior-Environment Subcommittee is conducting an oversight hearing on marine debris, its impacts on marine ecosystems and species, and ultimately its implications for human health. 

We will be hearing from two panels of experts, but I want to note that the Environmental Protection Agency plays a critical role in this issue, and you will notice their absence today.

We invited the Agency to provide a subject matter expert to participate on this panel. 

Unfortunately, EPA would not make one available and only offered a Senate confirmed political appointee whose work does not pertain to the hearing topic.  

I am disappointed because I think this was a missed opportunity for them to showcase their work.

Our discussion today provides an opportunity for the members of this Subcommittee to learn more about the work agencies under our jurisdiction are doing on marine debris.

Marine debris is a complex global problem that is exacerbated by our growing population and its associated waste.  

The use of plastic rapidly expanded after World War II.  It is now a major part of our daily lives, and plays a vital role in health care, food safety, and transportation.

The very fact that plastics are so pervasive in our lives explains why microplastic contamination that is transported through soil, air, and water, is found in every ecosystem. 

Recent research even reveals plastic is being deposited in remote locations, like the peaks of the Rocky Mountains and Arctic ice floes, via rain and snow. 

A February 2015 study, published in the journal Science, estimates that on average, 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean from land every year. 

According to the lead author, that is “equivalent to five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.”  

The Fish and Wildlife Service website outlines that six of the top ten items found in coastal waste are comprised of plastic, including food wrappers, plastic bags, and plastic bottles. 

At one time, plastics were thought to be an animal-friendly alternative to using ivory and tortoise shells. But now, we know the harm plastics can do to wildlife.

We also know marine debris is a vehicle for transporting invasive species. 

Coming from the Great Lakes region, I know the economic and ecological threat invasive species present, and I’m glad we’ll bring some attention to this aspect of marine debris today.

The impacts of marine debris will require all of us working together to improve coastal waste management, identify probable sources of this pollution, understand the method of transport, and devise creative solutions and mitigation strategies to fix this global trash problem.

Now I would like to yield to our Ranking Member, Mr. Joyce, for any opening remarks and then to Vice Chair Pingree, who will be facilitating the hearing because of her leadership and legislative work on the Save our Seas Acts and addressing food and packaging waste, including banning plastic straws for the Capitol Complex.

116th Congress