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Congressman Lowenthal Pushes Legislation to Address Fatal Ship Strikes on Whales

Bill would promote voluntary ship speed reduction to protect endangered whales, improve air quality

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Washington, D.C., September 6, 2017 | comments

Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) today introduced legislation to address a growing number of fatal cargo vessel strikes on endangered whales along the Southern California coast, while also improving air quality. The Blue Whales, Blue Skies legislation, H.R. 3682, would create a federal recognition program to encourage efforts to reduce vessel speed in shipping lanes along the Santa Barbara channel, close to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. These lanes are a high threat area for blue and humpback whales, in addition to the pollution generated by ship traffic which exacerbates local air quality concerns along the coast.

Each year, over 80 endangered blue, humpback, and fin whales die off the Pacific coast after being struck by cargo vessels. A recent study found that the vast majority of these fatal collisions occurred along just 10 percent of the Pacific coast, namely in the heavily-trafficked shipping lanes off the coast of San Francisco and Los Angeles.  A voluntary pilot program launched by environmental and conservation groups to reduce ship speed in the Santa Barbara channel began in 2014. This program expands on the massively successful Port of Long Beach vessel speed reduction program that prevents more than 1000 tons a year of air pollution from ocean going vessels visiting the port. The Blue Whales, Blue Skies Act legislation would add a formal federal component to the program by offering National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recognition to shipping lines that adhere to the speed reduction limits.

“Studies show that ship speed is directly correlated to whale mortality in these tragic strike incidents. Along the Atlantic coast, speed reductions have boosted the population counts of endangered right whales. And closer to home a voluntary program at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have protected blue and humpback whale feeding areas” Congressman Lowenthal said. “The Blue Whales, Blue Skies Act would recognize these critical efforts, and pave the way for further cooperation between shipping lines and our local communities to protect endangered whales and improve air quality.”

Joining Congressman Lowenthal as original co-sponsors on the bill are Congresswoman Julia Brownley (CA-26), and Congressmen Salud Carbajal (CA-24) and Rohit Khanna (CA-17).

“I am proud to co-author the Blue Whales and Blue Skies Act, legislation to acknowledge the important role of the maritime shipping industry in protecting our marine mammals,” Congresswoman Brownley said. “Modeled after a successful Ventura County and Santa Barbara County initiative, the bill would provide national recognition for shipping companies that voluntarily slow ship speeds off our coast. The program not only reduces emissions, improves air quality, and protects blue whales and other marine life, but also demonstrates how local ideas can provide innovative solutions to larger problems.”

Congressman Carbajal added, “Ensuring Americans have clean air and water is one of our greatest responsibilities as legislators. While serving in county government, I was proud to pass a resolution to reduce emissions from marine vessels. I am grateful to continue that work with my colleagues to reduce air pollution levels and protect our marine life.”

Aeron Arlin Genet, Director of Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District noted, “We want to thank our Congressional representatives for taking this effort forward to help build our partnership with the shipping industry. Cleaner air for everyone and safer conditions for whales —that’s what all of us are working together to create.“

Ships transiting through the region are a major source of air pollution in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. “The Blue Whales & Blue Skies Act offers an opportunity to create a public-private partnership to reduce emissions without the need for additional regulations,” said Mike Villegas, Air Pollution Control Officer, Ventura County Air Pollution Control District.

“We are delighted to see this piece of legislation introduced. The vessel speed reduction program is the result of a decade of partnership between federal and local agencies, non-profits and foundations, and the shipping industry—a unique partnership to be sure,” said Kristen Hislop, Marine Conservation Program Director for the Environmental Defense Center (EDC). “EDC and our partners have been working to reduce the impacts of shipping in the Santa Barbara Channel since 2007, when five endangered blue whales were killed as a result of ship strikes. We hope to build on the success of the vessel speed reduction program through this proposed award program, which will recognize the shipping companies that take action to protect endangered whales and improve air quality. It is great to see this type of partnership celebrated, and we commend Representatives Lowenthal, Carbajal, and Brownley for proposing this legislation.”

"This year, the Voluntary Speed Reductiion Incentive Program partnership expanded across the National Marine Sanctuary System in California bringing greater regional recognition for the need to conserve whales and work to prevent deadly ship strikes ,” said Kris Sarri, CEO and President of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. “The Foundation appreciates these Congressional champions for introducing this legislation to recognize the efforts of the VSR program to conserve whales and a healthier environment for all."

To read the text of the bill, click here.

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