Senators Say More Money Needs To Be Allocated For Debris Cleanup

The federal government is allocating a quarter of a million dollars to Pacific states to deal with debris washing ashore from the Japanese tsunami. Alaska’s senators say the amount is astonishingly low, and more needs to be on the way.

The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, or NOAA, announced a grant that will give Alaska and four other states up to $50,000 apiece to help clean up debris washing ashore.

“Can you record my eye roll?,” U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski said.

She says she’s offended the federal government would give states such a small amount to deal with a problem so big – and then divide it between them.

“So the state of Alaska, which has 33,000 miles of coastline – more than all of the coastline of all the other states, is to get their $50,000. Talk to the people of Yakatat – what they are already putting in their landfill from the collection of the debris off the beach,” Murkowski said.

NOAA would not comment for this story. But at a Senate hearing in May, NOAA’s David Kennedy, said the Marine Debris Program just doesn’t have the money for a large-scale cleanup.

NOAA Marine Debris Program Deputy Director Jason Rolfe and contractor Marty Myers take note of marine debris as they walk along a beach on the south side of Noyes Island, east of Cape Addington.

NOAA Marine Debris Program Deputy Director Jason Rolfe and contractor Marty Myers take note of marine debris as they walk along a beach on the south side of Noyes Island, east of Cape Addington. (Photo by Jacek Maselko, NOAA. June 18, 2012 )

And the bulk of debris isn’t ashore yet. Most of the estimated 1.5 million tons of refuse is expected to make landfall over the next two years.

Senator Mark Begich called the amount of money outrageous and says he’ll speak with the NOAA administrator this week.

“They’ll probably claim that’s all the money they could find. Well this should be inter-agency activity. They should figure out how to get the resources, because when it comes in large volume? The net result is: FEMA’s going to be at the table then,” Begich said.

FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency – helps coordinate disaster responses.

Begich says this is certainly not the last of the federal money for the project. And Murkowski, who’s on the appropriations committee, says there could be a way to get some money for the project on an Interior Department spending bill.

But whether the Senate actually takes up another funding measure this year remains unclear.

Related Story: NOAA crew surveys beachs for tsunami debris

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