Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Re-authorizing the BEACH Act

The BEACH Act of 2000 is the federal law that sets national standards for recreational water testing and authorizes state grants to pay for beach monitoring programs. This landmark law was first championed by Surfrider Foundation a decade ago. In the past three years, multiple attempts to reauthorize the BEACH Act have been made in Congress. The House of Representatives has already approved reauthorization legislation twice now, but proponents of these bills have not been successful in securing a place on the agenda for the full Senate.

The latest bill, the Clean Coastal Environment & Public Health Act of 2009, will increase the amount of federal dollars that can be spent on beach water quality monitoring and will modernize the technology we rely on to protect the health of the beach-going public. It also expands the scope of the BEACH Act to include tracking and cleaning up the sources of beach water pollution.

The original BEACH Act of 2000 is responsible for vast improvements in beach monitoring programs across the country. All coastal states are now operate beach monitoring programs. The BEACH Act set national water quality monitoring and reporting standards and authorizes yearly grants to states for beach monitoring.

Unfortunately, perennial under-funding has prevented full state implementation of the BEACH Act and has left public health at risk in many instances. Although the BEACH Act authorizes $30 million to be awarded to coastal states annually to support their beach monitoring programs, the actual appropriation is usually just under $10 million each year. Because of inadequate funding, many state programs are under-staffed and do not have the resources to meet all of their testing requirements.

Continued reliance on out-dated science also hinders proper implementation of beach monitoring programs. Currently, approved water testing methodologies require a 24 hr lag time before results are available. New water testing methods are available now that can provide water quality information within two hours of sampling, but the EPA has yet to approve any new methods for beach monitoring programs. States are also unable to use their BEACH grants to track and clean-up any sources of beach pollution, so that we could truly see improvements at our beaches.

The Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act, HR 2093, was submitted to the House of Representatives by Members Pallone (NJ), Bishop (NY), and Bilbray (CA). Senator Lautenberg (NJ) submitted the companion bill, S 878, to the Senate.

As originally submitted, the Clean Coastal Environment & Public Health Act:

· Reauthorizes the BEACH Act of 2000 for 5 years;

· Doubles the amount of funding available to states, to $60 million, so that a greater number of beaches can be monitored and more frequent monitoring can be conducted;

· Allows funds to be used for pollution source detection and cleanup to prevent future incidences of closings and advisories;

· Requires EPA to approve and states to use rapid test methods for monitoring beach water pollution;

· Speeds up requirements to notify beachgoers immediately after contamination is found;

· Requires public health authorities to notify environmental agencies when contamination is found at the beach; and

· Requires compliance reviews to ensure that state and local programs receiving federal funds are meeting the minimum requirements of the BEACH Act.

HR 2093 was marked up by the House and now it only raises the funding level to $40 million. Language for pollution clean-up has been removed, and a study on the impacts of nutrient pollution has been added to the bill. S 878 has passed out of Senate Committee and is waiting to get on the agenda for consideration by the full Senate.

If you want to help support clean beaches and immediate access to critical water quality information send your Senators an email asking them to support the swift passage of the Clean Coastal Environment & Public Health Act. Just click here.

The full text of both the House and Senate versions of this bill can be found online.

For further reading, an evaluation of the BEACH Act of 2000 by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) can be viewed here.

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