Legislation takes valuable step in protecting marine habitat
As a result of consistent pressure and engagement by Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and its partners, language that begins to address the critical issue of Gulf rig and platform removals has been included in the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012. Congressional Sportsman Caucus Chairs Senators Jon Tester (D-Mt) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 as an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill (S. 3240) this week.
“There is an immediate need to halt these removals and CCA is actively working to put a moratorium in place,” said Pat Murray, president of CCA National. “As part of that overall strategy, this legislation includes a new plan for the Department of Interior to send a report to Congress on how it is going to assess this critical habitat before indiscriminately ripping out these artificial reefs. Something has to be done to make the federal government realize it is making a horrible mistake destroying this valuable habitat.”
In a misguided response to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the U.S. Department of Interior issued the Idle Iron directive in October of 2010 ordering that all non-producing rigs and platforms be plugged and any remaining structure removed within five years of the issuance of that directive. Since then, CCA has worked on and supported a number of efforts to derail the negative impacts of the Idle Iron Policy, including the Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act filed by U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Ms), the recent decision by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to begin the process of classifying rigs and other vital artificial reefs as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH), and letters of opposition from Texas Governor Rick Perry and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) to the Department of Interior. Earlier this week, CCA and a coalition of marine conservation, tackle and boating industry groups called for a moratorium on the Idle Iron Policy in a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
“Inclusion of Idle Iron language in the Sportsmen’s Act is yet another step towards our goal and we are grateful to Senators Tester and Thune for including this section in the Sportsmen’s Package. It raises the visibility of an issue that is of great importance to recreational anglers,” said Murray.
Passage of the Sportsmen’s Act would require the Department of Interior (DOI) to coordinate with relevant federal and state agencies and accredited marine research institutes to assess the biodiversity and critical habitat present at platforms and related structures subject to removal, and assess the potential impacts of their removal. DOI would also have to develop a report on the potential impacts that the removal of those structures would have on the rebuilding plans for Gulf reef fish and habitat. Ultimately, the Secretary of Interior would also have to submit to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate and the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives a final report that includes a description of public comments from regional stakeholders, including recreational anglers, divers, offshore oil and gas companies, marine biologists, and commercial fisherman, as well as options to mitigate potential adverse impacts on marine habitat associated with that removal.
The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 contains a number of other components beneficial to hunting and recreational fishing and shooting. In addition to the Idle Iron language, the Act also contains a section containing the Billfish Conservation Act and a section that specifically excludes ammo and fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act.