Congress

Florida senators want federal help on their red tide problem

Algal blooms driven by chemical runoff and a warming climate killed aquatic life, slammed the state's tourism industry

A sign warns of possible airborne irritants after Palm Beach County closed its beaches because of a red tide algal bloom in October 2018. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As Florida grapples with so-called red tides of algal blooms along its coasts and waterways, the state’s senators are pushing the federal government to come up with a plan to help control them.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will on Wednesday mark up a bill sponsored by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott aiming to find a solution to the toxic algae that cost the state’s tourism industry millions of dollars each year. 

The House in September passed a companion bill that was introduced by Rep. Brian Mast, R- Fla.    

“I am encouraged by its continued progress in the Senate,” Rubio said in an emailed statement.

A spokeswoman said Scott is “proud to build on” his efforts to mitigate the effects of harmful algal blooms and red tide during his time as governor, and “will continue to work with his colleagues to protect Florida’s environment for generations to come.”

As the governor of Florida before he came to the Senate, Scott received partial blame from critics for the widespread algal blooms that inundated his state’s shores last year, noting his administration cut the state’s water management budget by $700 million.  

The bill would direct a federal interagency panel to “develop a plan for reducing, mitigating, and controlling” harmful algal blooms and hypoxia (dangerously low aquatic oxygen levels) in South Florida. It’s similar to one Rubio introduced last  year with former Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

[Their districts are at risk. But they still vote ‘no’ on climate action]

Unusually persistent outbreaks of the blooms tainted Florida’s coastlines with the stench of dead fish and other marine creatures that had been poisoned and washed ashore. Tourists and local residents avoided the beaches, costing the area revenue.

Jessie Ritter, director of Water Resources and Coastal Policy at the National Wildlife Federation, said the group is “supportive” of this bill as it seeks to get the interagency group to take a specific look at the situation in the Greater Everglades system, where both red tide and blue-green toxic algal outbreaks have been particularly acute in recent seasons.

“It’s time we get a handle on this problem, which cripples the Florida economy and threatens wildlife,” she said.

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