Over the past couple of weeks, two bills that I authored passed both houses of Congress—the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 2013 and the World War II Memorial Prayer Act of 2014. Now both are on their way to the President’s desk for his signature.
As many in the Great Lakes region know, algal blooms pose an increasingly significant threat to public health, the environment, and the economy of our region. Algal blooms can cause hypoxia—reduced oxygen in the water—and toxins produced by blooms can cause illness or death in humans. This has caused drinking water problems in cities from Columbus to Toledo to Celina on Grand Lake St. Marys. Algae blooms can also devastate wildlife, particularly food sources such as fish and shellfish. This in turn undermines our critically important fishing and tourism industries on Lake Erie and other Ohio freshwater lakes and rivers.
Tourism supports almost 10 percent of Ohio jobs and generates $750 million in state and local taxes. Fishing alone supports 100,000 Ohio jobs. Anglers come from all over the country to enjoy Lake Erie’s walleye sports fishery, considered by many to be the best in the world. But algal blooms threaten that bounty. The U.S. seafood and tourism industries already lose $82 million annually in economic impacts of algal blooms.
To help address this problem, I joined with Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida to author the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 2013, which reauthorizes the federal government’s research and response framework for algal blooms with a new focus on freshwater bodies, in particular the Great Lakes. Ohioans—including scientists and Lake Erie advocates—made important contributions to the legislation. I am proud that this bipartisan bill passed both chambers of Congress and is poised to provide resources for critical monitoring, research, and mitigation efforts for freshwater bodies in Ohio and across the country.
External threats to public health and the economy are one area in which we can unite people from both sides of the political divide. Our nation’s enduring spirit in the face of great adversity and the never-ending fight for freedom is another.
The 70th anniversary of D-Day provided all of us with a chance to remember the great sacrifices made by thousands of brave Americans on June 6, 1944, as well as the countless more men and women in uniform who continue to fight for the freedoms we all enjoy. The invasion of Normandy signaled the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, but it came with a cost; thousands of men gave their lives that day to free a continent from the grip of tyranny and oppression. I had the honor to talk with World War II veterans about D-Day at a recent veterans’ town hall meeting in Southern Ohio and at a veterans’ home in Northwest Ohio.
Working with Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, I authored legislation to eternally commemorate the words President Franklin D. Roosevelt prayed with the nation on D-Day. His words spoke not only to the struggle then unfolding on the shores of France, but also to the ideals that make our country exceptional—
…They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home….
Our legislation has now passed the House and the Senate and awaits the President’s signature. Commemorating President Roosevelt’s enduring message at the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. will ensure that those who defend our freedom abroad know that they take the solemn thoughts and prayers of every American with them into battle.
Whether it is tackling the contamination of our freshwater lakes in Ohio or remembering the eternal sacrifice of those who gave their lives to the cause of freedom, the American people should expect their elected representatives to work together to get things done. The successful passage of these two pieces of legislation show that it is still possible, and we’ve got a lot more work to do.
Rob Portman is a US Senator representing Ohio.