Dear Friend,Spring time in DC - what's not to love!
Against a backdrop of blossoms and melodious birdsong, President Obama is bringing science back into the equation while he appoints worthy, conservation-minded people like Dr. Jane Lubchenco to key positions. Hope - as they say - like spring, is eternal. (Well, assuming we can get a grip on the global warming threat. But, I digress).
I am happy to report that my latest visit to the Halls of Congress (and the White House) has left me more enthused than ever about the direction we're taking to build a Congressional coalition of champions and get good things done for the oceans.
At the same time we're pushing forward on bold, comprehensive efforts, (Cong. Sam Farr's Oceans-21 bill, for example), we're also focusing on more modest but important legislation with better-than-even chances of passing both Houses of Congress and being signed into law by President Obama.
This strategy, combined with our growing reputation on Capitol Hill and in the Administration, has been opening the doors and possibilities we first envisioned when we founded Ocean Champions in 2004.
Today, I cannot tell you how incredibly rewarding it is to be in this position, and I attribute it all the ongoing support you - our Members and donors - have provided us over the years. So, please accept a heartfelt thank you from me for believing in the Ocean Champions vision.
Given the positive response we received during my visit to DC in March, a key element of my strategy for this visit was to move the ball as far forward as possible on the Harmful Algal Bloom legislation - developing a national strategy to address these harmful outbreaks as well as hypoxia ("deadzones") in the ocean.
And, although the odds are always against any piece of legislation - no matter how important or non-controversial - actually passing both Houses of Congress and being signed into law, the prospects for this bill continue to grow, prospects I'd like to highlight by briefly discussing a few of our key meetings.
First, we met with Cong. Brian Baird of Washington, who is the new Chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee. It may be a bit of an understatement to say that he is ready and raring to go on this bill. Not only is he passionate about this issue and the legislation, he described to us that in addition to causing respiratory problems, the neuro-toxicity of some blooms can actually permanently destroy short-term memory in humans! Not good. This concern, which he addresses very eloquently and passionately, clearly defines the threat algae blooms can pose to human health, and will become a compelling element of our overall strategy to move this bill to the President's desk. Further, he has expressed his keen interest in working closely with two of our long-time champions on this legislation, Cong. Kathy Castor and Cong. Connie Mack, the original sponsors of this legislation.
During this visit, I had two other especially noteworthy meetings, one with the Assistant to the Speaker Cong. Chris Van Hollen, and the other with two senior White House officials.
Cong. Van Hollen, of course, has replaced Rahm Emanuel as the head of the DCCC and thus, in addition to his close working relationship with Speaker Pelosi and the White House, is in regular contact with every single Democratic Member of Congress. We had first met Mr. Van Hollen at an event for Cong. Frank Kratovil (D-MD), one of our freshmen Champions. At the event, Mr. Van Hollen took the opportunity to describe to us in some detail his strong interest in global ocean issues, and asked us to meet with him to discuss matters further at our earliest convenience.
At this follow-up meeting, we took the opportunity to seek his support for the Harmful Algae bloom bill, to which he responded favorably. He further agreed to stay in touch with us in the weeks ahead to help connect us to his colleagues who share our concerns about dealing with harmful algae blooms.
Finally, we met two officials at the White House to discuss a wide range of ocean issues, and we seized the opportunity to engage them on our harmful algae bloom legislation. We must be doing something right as we again received a positive response not only to the merits of the legislation, but also for our ongoing strategy for aligning the right mix of political support - House and Senate, Democrat and Republican - to move the bill forward. In addition, we received a warm response to our offer to work with them in the months ahead to garner support among our Congressional Ocean Champions for worthy Administration efforts on behalf of the oceans.
So, all good, but we've just begun. With an overloaded legislative agenda and the Administration focused on the economy and other more demanding issues, it will take all we've got to help push this bill through the Committee process and to the House and Senate floors for a vote. As you know, even in a relatively slow year, the vast majority of bills introduced in Congress never get a hearing, let alone make it to the floor for a vote.
Even now, we're reaching out to the committee chairmen to schedule hearings, and to the Leadership in both bodies to make the case for eventual floor time. For this, we will need your help: at the right time we will be turning to you to ask you to contact key Members of Congress to help us make this case.
Again, thanks for all of your support, and I'm looking forward to sharing my next communiqué from Washington. During that May visit, we plan to visit of few of the famous Capitol Hill watering holes and try to catch some Members and senior staff in more relaxed settings. The goal is to get a few of them to comment into my phone-camera and let me post it on our website. So, if you have a question or two you'd like me to ask, send it my way and I'll see what I can do.
For the oceans,
David Wilmot, Ph.D.