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Ocean Champions: Political Champions for Ocean Conservation

Dear Friend,

Before I head back to Washington, DC to continue to work on our ocean agenda, I want to share the whirlwind of activity during my last visit.

It all started with the Blue Vision Summit, a gathering of 400 plus people from 200 different ocean organizations around the country. I was honored to be asked to present old friend and Ocean Champion Congressman Sam Farr with the prestigious Peter Benchley award for Policy, and to moderate a panel on advancing federal ocean policy with some stellar panelists - CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley, Cong. Farr, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island, and Delegate Madeleine Bordallo from Guam.  Congratulations to David Helvarg for organizing an exciting and successful Summit. I encourage you to read his Blue Notes for an excellent summary of the entire Summit. 

After a late-night celebration, we launched into a four-day sprint of meetings with Members of Congress and their staffs to discuss strategic ways to move some of our priority ocean bills forward.  We rounded out our time in several bi-lateral discussions with blue community groups interested in partnering with us in some interesting ways (more on this in the coming days). And, in the course of our meetings, we discovered a rare and unexpected phenomenon, seldom witnessed in recent years. But, I get ahead of myself.

Clearly, with President Obama and some of the outstanding people he is selecting to serve in his Administration, including Dr. Jane Lubchenco, there are significant opportunities for us to move forward on a number of important ocean issues. But, just as clearly, he and his political appointees will need significant Congressional support to make these good things happen. As they say in Washington - the President proposes, and Congress disposes.

With that reality firmly in mind, we sallied forth.

We took the opportunity to lobby on several of our priorities, including establishing a national ocean policy and energy reform.  Most immediately, I am happy to report that I am very enthusiastic about what's happening with a piece of legislation we've been pushing for some time - legislation to improve coastal water quality by addressing harmful algae blooms including red tides and dead zones such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico. Whether it was a Congressman from the west coast, a Senator from the Northeast, a staffer to a Great Lakes Senator, a chief-of-staff to a Senator from a Gulf state, or a Member with a district bordering the Chesapeake Bay, we received support and commitments for action.  Our strategy of engaging a broad geographic coalition of support appears to be succeeding. That's Part One.

Part Two is securing the support of key Committee Chairman, Congressional Leadership, and - this is important - the Appropriators. On this front, not only does the Chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee - Cong. Bart Gordon - remain firmly in support, we learned that the new Chair of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee - our friend Cong. Brian Baird - will be taking the lead and is planning to hold a hearing on the bill later this spring.  I don't want to get into too many details at this time on the appropriations front, but we are getting positive signals of support from the ranks of key Appropriators.

Part Three is securing the right matrix of overall support to actually pass a bill in both the House and the Senate and have it sent to the White House to be signed into law by the President.  Which brings me back to our discovery of that rare and unexpected phenomenon in Washington, D.C. - bi-partisan co-operation!

Not only are our long-time Ocean Champions in the House - Cong. Connie Mack-Republican, and Cong. Kathy Castor-Democrat, continuing to push forward in the House, but the long-time Senate champions - Sen. Olympia Snowe-Republican, and Sen. Bill Nelson-Democrat are teaming up again in the Senate - and all four of these original champions have committed to support a stronger, more expansive bill.

But wait, it gets even better - and this is an insider perspective I'd like to share with everyone on the Ocean Champions team.  While we're all familiar with the frequent clashes between Democrats and Republicans, there are often even more intense conflicts between the House and the Senate.  In fact - and I've heard this more than once - Members will say something along the lines of "the other party is not the enemy;  they are the opposition - the enemy is the Senate!" (body of Congress being interchangeable, depending on who you're talking to).

So, with that sentiment in mind, I can't tell you how exciting it is to hear Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate agreeing to work hand-in-hand with Ocean Champions to ensure broad bi-partisan, bi-cameral agreement from the beginning on the Harmful Algae Bloom bill.

In closing, I'd like to thank all of the Members of Ocean Champions for your support, which has enabled us to build and develop relationships with a broad range of policy-makers in Washington, D.C. Without your continued and generous involvement, none of this would be possible. I'm told that an updated version of the bill is likely to be introduced this spring.  You will be the first to know.

These are exciting times.

For the oceans,

David Wilmot
President & Co-Founder

P.S. We want to thank President Obama and our Champions on the Hill for passing the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, which included several pieces of ocean legislation [ President's remarks , Rockefeller Press Release highlighting ocean bills ].  Congratulations to all of our partners in the ocean environmental community who worked so hard to move this important legislation. 

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