Yesterday, in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, both Republicans from Nevada, introduced H.R. 1823, legislation to ban both the importation and export of certain kinds of mussels (a category of bivalve molluscs).
My presumption is that the legislation has to do with invasive mussels, like the zebra mussel, and upon a bit of investigation, I see that I’m right. Nevada is having a problem with quagga mussels, a relative of zebra mussels. Both zebra mussels and quagga mussels are freshwater molluscs that feed by filtering fine bits of food out of the water. They’re exceptionally good at doing this, so that there isn’t much food left for competing species. The aquatic food web in places where quagga and zebra mussels begin to breed can fall apart in a fairly short period of time.
Confronting this ecological problem seems like a good idea, but I have questions about the form of action that H.R. 1823 proposes. The summary statement available from the Library of Congress says that the bill would prohibit the importation and export of zebra and quagga mussels, but my understanding is that zebra mussels and quagga mussels aren’t really imported on purpose. Rather, zebra and quagga mussels mostly spread through contamination of recreational boats that are hauled between lakes and rivers by people who get a great thrill out of burning through large amounts off fossil fuels to go skipping over the water at high speeds. Does H.R. 1823 deal with the problem of recreational boats?
Furthermore, many large bodies of water in Nevada, like Lake Mead, are not natural ecosystems in the first place. They’re artificial reservoirs created by the blockage of rivers, and are themselves harmful to river ecosystems. Given this complicated ecological context, what kind of benchmarks does H.R. 1823 provide to measure the environmental integrity of aquatic ecosystems threatened by invasive mussels?
I can’t go to the Library of Congress to obtain answers to these questions. The Library isn’t adequately funded, and neither is the Government Printing Office, which processes all congressional legislation, so the text of H.R. 1823 is not yet online.
Traditionally, this is where journalism comes in. Reporters working in Washington D.C. are supposed to be keeping track of legislation introduced in Congress, and talking to politicians and their staffers so that Americans can be informed about the new federal laws that have been proposed.
When I search through the news that’s been written about the U.S. Congress, however, I can’t find a single article about H.R. 1823. When I search Google News, a fairly comprehensive search engine for work by journalists, for articles about “mussels” and “Heck”, I can only find the following three items:
- The Republican Journal of Knox County asks, “Who the heck knows who owns the spot you end up in?” and anticipates “a spread of lobster, steamers and mussels” for dinner in the summertime.
- The Boston Globe asks, “What the heck is a hungry working girl supposed to do for dinner?” and suggests “an ocean-scented seaweed pasta studded with mussels”.
- The Virginian-Pilot laments that Franco’s By The Bay only serves its pescatore of mussels, clams and shrimp on Fridays, but consoles itself with the knowledge customers love the Friday meals so much that they contribute substantially to the local economy: “Heck. We know we at least pay their light bill.”
If Congress won’t report on its proceedings in a timely manner, and journalists won’t write about the much of the legislative activity of Congress either, how are citizens supposed to know when they need to get involved? What is there that we, living out in the grassroots, are supposed to do when both the people on Capitol Hill and the executives put in charge of our nation’s newsrooms are inclined to clam up?