Subcommittee Democrats Urge Continued Investment in Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research

Jun 1, 2011

Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a legislative hearing to examine harmful algal blooms (HABs) and hypoxia research and response needs. Subcommittee Members heard testimony on the draft legislation, the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 2011, which would establish a National Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia program and provide for comprehensive regional action plans to address and reduce HABs and hypoxia. This legislation is similar to H.R. 3650, Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2009, introduced by Congressman Brian Baird (WA-3), which passed the House in 111th Congress, but never made it through the Senate.

In his opening remarks, Ranking Member Brad Miller (NC-13) said, “Because of the 1998 Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act and the 2004 reauthorization, we have made significant advances in our research findings and have taken important steps to solve some of the problems created by harmful algae blooms.  However, numerous reports and assessments, required by this law, have revealed an increase in the number, frequency, and type of hypoxic events and blooms in recent years. We need to continue this valuable research and implement strategic national and regional plans.”

Harmful algal blooms are a rapid overproduction of algal cells that produce toxins which are hazardous to animals and plants. When the blooms occur they block sunlight in water and use up the available oxygen in the water, which causes severe oxygen depletion, hypoxia. The toxins the algae create can be dangerous to humans if they drink or swim in the contaminated water or consume fish or seafood that has ingested these toxins. Environmental changes in water quality, temperature, and sunlight or an increase in nutrients in the water can cause blooms to increase dramatically.   HABs also have devastating environmental and economic impacts:  dramatic fish, bird, and mammal mortalities; hardships for economies which are reliant on tourism and the harvest of local fish and seafood; and damage to ecosystems that may reduce the ability of those systems to sustain species.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, HABs and hypoxia have a negative economic impact of $82 million in the U.S. annually.

Subcommittee Democrats are concerned that the current version of the legislation does not include a freshwater HABs section.  Though HABs are most often associated with marine water, they are also found in freshwater like the Great Lakes and should be researched and responded to in order to protect the nation’s rivers, lakes, estuaries, and reservoirs. 

Ranking Member Miller ended with the importance of continual investments in HABs and hypoxia research. He said “We must continue to invest in a way that will move this research forward and advance our understanding of these blooms and the hypoxic events they cause. We need to monitor, mitigate, and control these occurrences better and to prevent them, if possible.”