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Our Oceans Can't Wait Any Longer

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Congress has now adjourned for the month of August with many issues still unaddressed. In the House of Representatives several key policy provisions remain in limbo - extending emergency unemployment insurance, a long-term solution to infrastructure funding, and the broken immigration system. And the House has not taken even a small step toward addressing one of the most pressing issues of our time: climate change.

As a member of the Safe Climate Caucus and the ranking member of the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Environment, I often speak with colleagues who express frustration that policies to address climate change are not being made a priority. We are seeing the effects throughout the country as extreme weather events increase in frequency and severity and temperatures rise.

In Oregon, the state I am proud to call home, we are also affected by another consequence of climate change: ocean acidification.

Carbon pollution is not only heating our planet; it is also making the oceans more acidic. Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans, increasing the acidity of the water and harming sea life. According to the National Climate Assessment released earlier this year, the combination of seasonal upwelling and other regional factors in the Pacific Northwest create some of the most corrosive ocean conditions in the world.

According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the current rate of ocean acidification is unprecedented. We are already seeing changes that affect marine organisms and ecosystems. Ocean acidification is threatening oysters and many other calcifying organisms by making it harder for them to grow their protective shells and skeletons. The oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest is particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification and they have experienced significant production losses in recent years.

The problem has reached such a level that the traditional process of growing oysters is no longer economically viable in some areas. Some hatcheries have had to shift their operations to Hawaii or install expensive machinery to monitor the ocean water. Ocean acidification is a serious challenge to this $273 million industry, which saw a 60 percent drop in hatchery production of oysters in 2008 and a devastating 80 percent drop in production in 2009.

Ocean acidification has contributed to softened clam shells in some areas and to mass die-offs of mussels and young scallops on Northwest shores. It is dissolving plankton species that many larger ocean creatures rely on for food, threatening the ocean food chain.

Last year the leaders of Oregon, California, Washington, and British Columbia wrote to President Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to seek support for ocean acidification research and to encourage action to mitigate its impact. They stressed that the effects of ocean acidification "are expected to lead to irreversible losses to our region's commercial, recreational and culturally important marine resources." Increasing acidity also threatens the economically important fish and shellfish industry on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.

The President's budget request to Congress for fiscal year 2015 acknowledged the growing threat posed by ocean acidification by requesting $15 million for federal research and monitoring activities. Unfortunately, the House Appropriations Committee allocated less than half that amount. As we consider funding bills for the upcoming fiscal year, it is essential that we acknowledge this critical issue and direct more resources to understanding and addressing ocean acidification.

Let's not sit and watch as our ocean waters increase in acidity, disrupting sea life, and resulting in countless negative environmental and economic effects. Let's act now to address these important issues before they get worse. Our oceans can't wait any longer. Let's make combatting climate change a priority.

This post is part of a series from the Safe Climate Caucus. The Caucus is comprised of 39 members of the House of Representatives who have committed to ending the conspiracy of silence in Congress about the dangers of climate change. For more information, visit the Safe Climate Caucus website and like the Safe Climate Caucus on Facebook.

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