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National Coalition Emerges in Congress To Protect Farallon Islands

Earlier today, The Green Man highlighted legislation to protect the Georges Bank off the coast of New England from oil exploitation that would cause ecological disruption and damage one of the nation’s most vital fisheries. I’d like to suggest that the struggle over the Georges Bank is a struggle within economics. When we think about economic security, it’s important to think beyond the short term of temporary energy fixes to the long-term maintenance of the resources available to us. People who pit environmentalism against “the economy” don’t understand that environmentalism is all about prudent resource management. When you hear talk about “saving the planet,” that should be put in context. “Saving” isn’t being used in a superhero-rescue sense. The planet as a whole will be here for another 5 billion years or so. Earth is not going anywhere. What most environmentalists mean by “saving the planet” is “saving” its natural wealth for generations in a sustainable way into the future, rather than spoiling that wealth today for the gain of pennies on the future dollar. Environmentalism is economics that thinks big.

In the case of the preservation of the Georges Bank, it appears that members of Congress aren’t thinking above the middling. As of today, all the cosponsors of H.R. 790 represent districts in New England, with the exception of Rep. Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat representing Ithaca, Poughkeepsie and other parts of southeastern Upstate New York. Excepting the case of Rep. Hinchey, the cosponsors’ districts all stand to benefit directly from the protection of New England fisheries. Excepting Rep. Hinchey, no members of Congress whose constituents stand to indirectly benefit from the fisheries’ preservation have cosponsored that bill.

A similar bill to H.R. 790, but applying to the Pacific Coast, is the Gulf of the Farralones Preservation Act. Introduced in the House as H.R. 223 and in the Senate as S. 212, this legislation also proposes to safeguard an area of biological richness off the American coast, namely the Cordell Bank near the Farallon Islands of California. The Farallon Islands are an uninhabited group of islands — uninhabited by humans, that is. The Gulf of the Farallones is a sanctuary for marine birds, is a gathering point for marine mammals, and is host to a wide variety of ocean life due to the shallow depth of the water immediately surrounding it. The Farallon Island area is a biological bank with value beyond its stark beauty, maintaining nearby fisheries that could sustain commerce long into the future. If passed H.R. 223 and S. 212 would expand the boundaries of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary to more fully protect our national biological and economic health for the long term.

The pattern of support for the bill to protect the Gulf of the Farallones notably contrasts the local pattern of support for H.R. 790. To be sure, there are a number of Californian representatives and senators lining up behind the Farallones legislation, but the bill has also gained the support of Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Vic Snyder of Arkansas, Alcee Hastings of Florida, Edward Markey and John Olver of Massachusetts, Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum of Minnesota, Timothy Bishop and Maurice Hinchey of New York, Mike McIntyre and Melvin Watt of North Carolina, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, and Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas. I don’t know of any significant offshore fisheries in the Arizona, Arkansas, Minnesota, New York or Ohio, and yet politicians from these states have seen the long-term national wisdom in protecting the environmental assets of the Farallones. Thanks to these members of the 111th Congress with the courage to think big.

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