A key senate panel today approved legislation that, for the first time, could open the door to federal assistance for states and local communities hard hit by toxic algae blooms.
The measure, sponsored by Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, unanimously cleared the Senate Commerce Committee on a voice vote.
“Floridians have borne the brunt of recent toxic algae outbreaks, but by law have been unable to qualify for federal help,” said Nelson, the top Democrat on the panel. “Algae blooms are more than just a nuisance — it can be an environmental, economic, and public health nightmare that warrants emergency relief.”
Last summer, a massive, toxic bloom began in Lake Okeechobee, spreading to the Indian River Lagoon, Caloosahatchee River and the coastline causing widespread and severe environmental and economic damage.
Under Nelson’s measure, the heads of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would have the authority to declare a severe harmful algal bloom or hypoxic event as nationally significant, triggering access to federal resources.
The legislation also authorizes the use of $11o million over a five year period for research into the causes and control of large algae blooms and hypoxia.
Nelson has long championed efforts in the Senate aimed at curbing the impacts of toxic algae blooms. In 2014, he successfully shepherded a law through Congress that authorized $82 million for research to help battle toxic algae outbreaks.
The legislation now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
Full text of Nelson’s measure is available here.