OPINION — We may have plenty of political differences, but we come from coastal states. That means we have a front-row seat to the peril of plastic waste and marine debris flowing into our oceans at the rate of around 8 million metric tons per year. We understand what it will mean for our fishing and tourism industries when the weight of plastic in our oceans equals the weight of fish in the sea — something projected to happen by mid-century. We don’t have a moment to lose in confronting this problem.
That’s why we built a coalition in Congress and gathered input from environmental and industry stakeholders alike. Despite a divided Washington, that work resulted in a bill that won broad, bipartisan support. When the Save Our Seas Act became law last October, it was a moment of bipartisan progress on a vital issue — one to be celebrated.
Before the president’s ink on Save Our Seas was dry, our bipartisan trio of senators began developing the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act. We sought to harness the momentum behind the first bill to up the ante on combatting the global marine debris crisis. Marine debris requires multifaceted, multisector solutions with a global reach, and the United States ought to be driving these solutions.
In developing the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, we collected hundreds of comments and ideas from researchers, federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations and industry. We reviewed the latest science on marine debris and plastics pollution. We identified areas ripe for legislative action and others where investments in research are needed. We looked inward at the United States’ own waste management systems and how we could better position the country as an international leader — not hindrance.
The result is an ambitious bill spanning jurisdictions of three Senate committees. Save Our Seas 2.0 seeks to bolster federal agencies in their work to combat marine debris, push international action, support needed domestic infrastructure improvements and promote innovation. It makes significant progress toward the goals of reducing the creation of new plastic waste while dealing with existing plastic waste to stop it from polluting the oceans.
Because of strong support from inside and outside the government, Save Our Seas 2.0 has advanced in the Senate quickly. No one bill in Congress can solve a global crisis such as marine debris on its own. But Save Our Seas 2.0 represents significant progress and sets all of us up for continued efforts of all kinds in this field. Save Our Seas 2.0 will support environmental groups cleaning up beaches, industry collaborating with government, scientists conducting research, legislative efforts moving forward at all levels of government, and much more.
Save Our Seas 2.0 builds on the progress of Save Our Seas. It has served as a rallying point to welcome members of any party or sector who are sincere in their commitment to solving this problem. Plastic waste in our oceans is solvable, but a solution will require coordination, and lots of it. That is what Save Our Seas 2.0 represents. Pitting solution versus solution will only stall progress and allow more plastic to pollute our precious oceans.
We are encouraged by the progress so far but know there is more work to do. We appreciate the support of our co-sponsors and the experts who contributed to this important bill. We welcome anyone who wants to engage in constructive conversations and will work with us to do so. We look forward to swift approval by the Senate Commerce Committee and passage in the U.S. Senate.
To save our oceans, there is no time to waste.
Sen. Bob Menendez is a Democrat representing the state of New Jersey.