Allison Winter, E&E reporter
Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2011
A bipartisan group of senators will meet today to form an oceans caucus that could press their colleagues on issues including ocean conservation, fishing, ports, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spending and offshore energy development.
The new Senate Oceans Caucus comprises 18 coastal lawmakers, including four Republicans.
The group has coalesced over recent weeks and will become official today, when they hold their first meeting, select chairmen and approve a “founding charter,” according to Senate aides.
As Washington focuses on jobs, the group is already pitching ocean issues as a part of that platform. A spokesman for one of the key senators who helped form the new group, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), yesterday said economic issues will be key for the group. Oceans advocates claim the sea contributes more to the country’s gross domestic product than the entire farm sector.
“The oceans are a significant contributor to our economy and affect the livelihood of millions of people across the country,” said Whitehouse spokesman Seth Larson.
Members of Congress can organize to form a caucus without any official sanction. There are dozens of such caucuses, from the influential Congressional Black Caucus to the Sportsmen’s Caucus to the Congressional Bike Caucus, a group started by cycling advocate Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) that now claims more than 100 members.
The groups often introduce bills or send letters to their colleagues to highlight how legislation would affect their areas of interest.
The House Oceans Caucus formed about 10 years ago and is currently chaired by Reps. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and Jay Inslee (D-Wash.). In past years, the group has pushed — with little success — for sweeping legislation that would reform ocean governance at the federal and regional levels.
The new Senate caucus could potentially take up some of the oceans issues championed by its members. Whitehouse and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), another member of the group, introduced legislation earlier this year that seeks to create a National Endowment for the Oceans that would pay for conservation efforts on U.S. coasts and ocean waters.
Other founding members of the caucus include Democratic Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Mark Begich of Alaska, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Barbara Boxer of California, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Ben Cardin of Maryland, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ron Wyden of Oregon. Republicans in the caucus are Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Snowe.
Special thanks to Richard Charter