Water, Oceans, and Wildlife

The Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife is responsible for overseeing the agencies that manage America’s water resources, hydropower development, and federal transmission lines. Democrats on the subcommittee are committed to managing, developing, and improving America’s water supply in an environmentally and economically sound manner. Democrats are also dedicated to developing our domestic energy resources by promoting affordable, environmentally-sustainable hydroelectricity.

The Subcommittee is also charged with developing and overseeing the implementation of laws managing domestic and international fisheries and other marine resources. The United States has made great strides in making fisheries more economically and environmentally sustainable, as well as in protecting vulnerable ocean ecosystems and species like sharks, whales, and coral. Much remains to be done, however, particularly in light of the threats climate change poses to our oceans and coasts.

Committee Democrats

  • Jared  Huffman
    California 2nd District
  • Grace Napolitano
    California 32nd District
  • Jim Costa
    California 16th District
  • Mike Levin
    California 49th District
  • Julia Brownley
    California’s 26th District
  • Debbie Dingell
    Michigan 12th District
  • Ed Case
    Hawaii 1st District
  • Doris  Matsui
    California’s 6th District
  • Alan Lowenthal
    California 47th District
  • Steve  Cohen
    Tennessee’s 9th District
  • Darren  Soto
    Florida 9th District
  • Raúl M. Grijalva
    Arizona 3rd District
  • Nydia M.  Velázquez
    New York 7th District

Oceans and the Climate Crisis

Our oceans, which make up over 70% of the Earth’s surface, are vital to our economy and ecosystems. The ocean regulates global temperature, generates oxygen, provides essential food supplies and is the planet’s largest carbon sink. But today climate change is drastically transforming our oceans. 

As the earth’s largest carbon sink, the ocean absorbs 1/3 of the carbon dioxide humans emit into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to 22 million tons per day. The absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide is literally changing the ocean’s chemistry, causing it to acidify at an alarming rate. This greatly threatens the growth and reproduction of many marine species.

Climate change has also warmed the world’s oceans, which have absorbed over 90% of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases humans emitted into the atmosphere. Warmer ocean temperatures cause massive sea level rise, threaten and transform entire ecosystems like coral reefs, and seriously destabilize fishing and tourism industries, all while endangering coastal communities from Florida to Alaska to American Samoa.

Republicans continue to sow doubt about climate science and undermine efforts to protect invaluable marine ecosystems and effectively combat climate change. Despite this, Democrats are working diligently to protect the oceans, ecosystems, and coastal communities we treasure from the dangers of climate change.

However, there is hope. The ocean is an essential component of the climate solution. Ocean ecosystems have the ability to sequester carbon and mitigate the impacts of severe weather events.  We must restore and protect coastal blue carbon ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes and sea grasses. These coastal ecosystems absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and safely store it at a rate of up to four times that of forests on land. They also serve as a buffer that can limit the impacts of erosion, flooding and storms all while providing habitat for marine wildlife and fisheries. Other natural solutions include supporting living shorelines, a shoreline stabilization technique which provides wildlife habitat and natural resilience to communities threatened by rising sea levels, intensified storms, and coastal erosion.

Responsibly Helping Wildlife Abroad

Trophy hunting occurs when the primary motivation of a hunt is to obtain animal parts, such as tusks, hides, or the taxidermized animal. American trophy hunters often travel to Africa seeking the most sought-after animal species known at the Big Five: African buffalo or cape buffalo, African elephants, African leopards, African lions, and southern white rhinoceros. Between 2005 to 2014, American hunters imported 32,500 trophies of the Big Five species into the United States.

Proponents of trophy hunting argue that hunting fees benefit species conservation and support local communities. But evidence for this is convoluted at best, and data shows that trophy hunting has low economic value as a wildlife-related activity. In reality, a study of eight African countries revealed that less than 1% of the $17 billion generated from tourism spending came from trophy hunters.

Democrats have sought to strengthen protections for endangered and threatened species by requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to certify that any international trophy hunting of those species can be proven to enhance the conservation of the species before permitting the import of a trophy.

International wildlife conservation can be complicated because countries, nonprofits, and indigenous people have to work together. No matter what, Committee Democrats believe that human rights and the safety and prosperity of indigenous people should take utmost precedent.

Sustainable Fisheries: Keeping the Magnuson-Stevens Act Strong

Magnuson-Stevens Act

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (also referred to as the Magnuson-Stevens Act or MSA) is the preeminent law governing the management and conservation of our fisheries in federal waters, which generally extend between 3 and 200 nautical miles offshore. 

The MSA ensures long-term sustainability for American fisheries, giving consumers a growing supply of domestic seafood. 

NOAA Fisheries

Combatting the Extinction Crisis

The loss of biodiversity is one of the most urgent environmental problems we face today. Species around the world are threatened by human-related activities, from climate change and habitat destruction to wildlife trafficking. We are currently facing the 6th mass extinction in history, with species disappearing approximately 100 times faster than the normal rate.

Historically, Congress has worked in a bipartisan way to protect endangered species and advance conservation efforts. In 1973, The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed into law by President Nixon after it passed through Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. The ESA is America’s firewall against mass extinction–– it ensures that land development and other activities are conducted in a way that protects imperiled species and the habitat they need to survive and recover. Over 1,600 fish, wildlife, and plants are currently listed under the ESA, and since its enactment, an extraordinary 99% of listed species, including the bald eagle and the grizzly bear, have been spared from extinction. The ESA is not only remarkably successful, but it is also extremely popular: a study by PBS News found 4 out of 5 Americans from across the political spectrum support the ESA.

Other important wildlife conservation efforts at the Federal level include the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), a 1918 law which has protected more than 1,000 species of migratory birds from overhunting and industrial activities, and the National Wildlife Refuge System, the only network of federal lands specifically devoted to wildlife conservation.

In recent years, Republicans have worked to undermine our nation’s bedrock species protection laws, decrease funding for conservation initiatives and even permit drilling in precious places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Democrats are working to strengthen laws like the ESA and MBTA, increase funding for conservation efforts, and expand the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Species conservation is crucial not only for protecting ecosystems but also plays an important role in strengthening the resilience of the communities that depend upon them. Congress must continue to work towards protecting wildlife at home and abroad to preserve biodiversity for future generations.

Sportsmen & Women as Conservationists

Some of the earliest conservationists were sportsmen like President Theodore Roosevelt, who advocated for the preservation of wild places so that Americans would always be able to enjoy hunting and fishing in the outdoors. In the century since his presidency, conservationists and sportsmen have worked together to implement sound environmental policies that enhance habitat protection and increase public lands access. Promoting outdoor activities, including hunting and fishing, is key to encouraging Americans to spend time outdoors.

Democrats prioritize improving and developing land, water, and wildlife conservation efforts through public programs and private partnerships. In conjunction with these efforts, Democrats support improving access for recreation on federal lands.

Eliminating Illegal, Unregulated, & Unreported Fishing & Seafood Fraud

Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, also referred to as “pirate fishing,” is any unlawful practice that does not comply with national, regional, or global fisheries management or conservation requirements.

  • Illegal fishing occurs when vessel operations violate the laws of a fishery such as those regulated by the Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMO), which are international bodies dedicated to the sustainable management of fisheries.
  • Unreported fishing is fishing that is either misreported or unreported to the relevant national authority of RFMO.
  • Unregulated fishing is fishing by vessels flying the flag of a country not part to a relevant RFMO.

IUU fishing is estimated to account for 20% of fish catches globally, with an estimated annual economic loss of $26 to $50 billion. IUU fishing is a major driver in the decrease of global fish stocks, threatening marine ecosystems, and jeopardizing food security and the American economy.

Illegal fishing is also a threat to our national security.

  • Illegal fishing has well-documented ties to the drug trade, human trafficking, and slavery
  • Given that 91% of seafood consumed in the United States is imported or re-imported, it is critical to ensure that Americans are not unknowingly supporting these activities
  • Seafood fraud, the intentional mislabeling of seafood products to increase profit and dodge regulations, can have serious consequences for human health, as certain species and countries of origin are more likely to produce seafood contaminated with heavy metals and industrial pollution

Democrats have sponsored and passed bipartisan legislation to strengthen enforcement mechanisms to stop IUU fishing and implementing legislation for the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA). Moving forward, Democrats will continue to work to protect American fisheries, stop human trafficking in the seafood supply chain, and strengthen coastal economies.

Addressing the Drought in California and other Western States

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, nearly 40% of the country is currently experiencing some kind of drought watch or warning and 14% of the country is experiencing severe drought or worse. The lack of rain, low storage in reservoirs, and low river flows – not environmental laws – are the major causes of low water supplies across the West.

US Drought Monitor

See the most current drought conditions here.

Republican efforts to blame the drought in California and other Western states on bedrock environmental laws are not supported by the facts. 

  • Fact: Reductions in water pumping from California’s main water distribution hub – the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta – are primarily due to water quality protections that are necessary to make sure the water being pumped is not too salty to be used for agricultural irrigation or for drinking water supplies. For more information, view the California Water Boards 2015 report.
  • Fact: Only 2% of the reduction in water supply statewide was caused by Endangered Species Act protections in 2014.
  • Fact: Minimal protections have kept species nearing extinction on life support and also sustain non-endangered fish species that support thousands of jobs in numerous industries­.

Republican claims that large amounts of water are being “wasted” on the environment are also clearly false. Minimal amounts of water are being devoted to maintaining important ecological functions of freshwater systems. In California, the State Water Resources Control Board has estimated that in 2014 only 4% of all the runoff in the Bay-Delta watershed flowed to San Francisco Bay solely for environmental protection and could otherwise have been captured, and in 2015, this amount went down to 2%.

To alleviate the drought, Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee support a multifaceted drought management approach that includes:

  • Increased water recycling
  • Conservation
  • Water-use efficiency
  • Improved surface and groundwater management

For example, Committee Democrats support investment in WaterSMART projects, which currently create 730,000 acre-feet of water per year. WaterSMART projects range from lining of irrigation canals to industrial efficiencies. For more information, view the U.S. Department of the Interior's WaterSMART page.

Additionally, Title XVI water recycling projects created 378,000 acre-feet of water in 2014, or enough water to supply three million people for a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Title XVI recycling projects should be supported and expanded. 

Promoting Healthy River Ecosystems that Support Western State Economies

Committee Democrats support reasonable environmental protections to promote healthy river ecosystems that support Western state economiesincluding the Pacific Region's commercial and recreational fishing industry, which generates over $30 billion in sales per year, provides more than $7 billion in income, and sustains over 200,000 jobs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Healthy rivers in California support thousands of jobs in many industries including:

  • Commercial and recreational fishing
  • Seafood processing
  • Boat repair
  • Harbors
  • Hotels
  • Trucking
  • Restaurants

In fact, the last closure of the West Coast salmon fishery in 2008 and 2009 required $158 million in disaster relief from Congress. This proves that maintaining healthy rivers will support the economy and make future fishery disasters less likely.

Healthy rivers also sustain a multibillion dollar recreational economy. According to the Colorado River, Inc. report, the Colorado River alone in river-related recreation:

  • Produces $26 billion in economic output
  • Generates $17 billion in retail sales
  • Supports a quarter million American jobs   

Providing Water Supply Certainty for Tribal and Non-Tribal Communities 

Winters DoctrineCommittee Democrats support Indian water rights settlements and seek to expedite current water settlement negotiations between tribes and the federal government. Indian Water Rights settlements provide water supply certainty for tribal and non-tribal communities and end expensive and protracted litigation. 

Congress has approved more than two dozen Indian water rights settlements since 1978, creating thousands of jobs and spurring economic development across Indian country and surrounding communities. For example, a few recent settlements in the Claims Resolution Act, the Navajo-San Juan settlement and the Arizona Water Settlement Act will sustain 1,600-2,200 jobs per year over the next decade. For more information, view the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Testimony before Senate Committee on Indian Affairs delivered on March 15, 2012.  

Pending settlement negotiations should be completed and approved by Congress as soon as possible. 

Supporting Sustainable Hydropower Development

Committee Democrats support hydropower development consistent with landmark environmental protections like the National Environmental Policy Act. We do not have to choose between protecting our environment and the production of hydropower. We can have both.

Democrats have historically supported hydropower development and recently worked with Republicans to streamline hydropower development – passing the Small Conduit Hydropower Act and the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act by a House vote of 416-7 and 422-0 respectively during the 113th Congress.

Democrats support:

  • Rehabbing our decades old facilities and aging infrastructure and the use of new hydropower technologies that are both efficient and environmentally friendly. According to a recent study, nearly 9,000 megawatts of new capacity could be added through modernizing existing hydropower facilities.
  • Western Area Power Administration’s use of borrowing authority to finance transmission lines for grid reliability and to bring renewable energy to market. Western borrowing authority will also create thousands of jobs across the West. For example, a committee report states that one single project currently under development – the 725-mile TransWest Express transmission line – is projected to support roughly 18,000 jobs and deliver 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy from Wyoming to the Desert Southwest.

The Bureau of Reclamation is the second largest producer of hydropower in the nation. According to a U.S. Department of the Interior report, reclamation’s 58 power plants annually provide more than 40 billion kilowatt hours, generating nearly a billion dollars in power revenues and producing enough electricity to serve 3.5 million homes.

Amount of power generated by hydropower projects in the United States, 1997-2011


Source: United States Bureau of Reclamation

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