Members of the U.S. Senate have formed a bipartisan caucus focused on the oceans, and both of Alaska’s Senators are on board. Republican Lisa Murkowski is co-chairing it with Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse.
The group of 18 Senators is bonded because they’re all from coastal states. Most are Democrats but four are Republicans. Senator Murkowski says the group will be a working caucus – sharing information, hosting seminars, and finding common issues to push.
Even though oceans cover 70 percent of the planet, Murkowski says far too little is known about them.
“We know less about our oceans than we do about outer space. We know less about our oceans than really is acceptable. Because, without healthy oceans we do not have a healthy planet,” Murkowski said.
Senator Begich was part of a group that pushed for the caucus. He says oceans are critical to the economy – both globally and especially in Alaska.
“From Alaska’s perspective there’s no other, other than probably oil and gas and a couple other industries, there is no other that grabs the attention of what’s going on in Alaska than what we do in our oceans, from commercial activity of commercial fishermen to sports fishermen to subsistence, tourism, recreational, oil and gas development, you name it, we do it in our oceans,” Begich said.
The Senate Oceans Caucus says the oceans and coasts support millions of American jobs and added 230 billion dollars in the economy in 2004…more than the entire farm sector.
Senator Begich already chairs a Commerce subcommittee on oceans, but he says it’s limited by process and the new caucus has unlimited topic range and time for debate, discussion, and sharing. He’s been named a caucus honorary co-chair to help coordinate its work with that of the Commerce Subcommittee.
The group had its first meeting Tuesday in the U.S. Capitol Building.