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Senator Chris Murphy speaks on Save Our Seas bill, hears environmental concerns

Mystic — Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., held a roundtable with more than 60 people in attendance at Mystic Aquarium on Tuesday afternoon, to talk about his co-sponsorship of the bipartisan Save Our Seas 2.0 Act and solicit input on addressing environmental issues.

Murphy called this “a much bigger piece of legislation” and “a tad more aggressive” than the original Save Our Seas Act, which was enacted in October and in which Murphy was less involved.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, introduced the new bill in late June. Joining Murphy as co-sponsors are nine Democrats and four Republicans.

The act — which is an authorization bill, not a funding one — establishes the Marine Debris Response Trust Fund for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to use. Marine debris includes materials caused by both a natural event, such as a flood or hurricane and by “an intentional or grossly negligent act or acts that causes substantial economic or environmental harm,” the bill states.

Murphy said funding could possibly be used for waste management or increasing volunteer capacity for cleanups.

He has been most involved with the part of the bill that establishes the Genius Prize for Save Our Seas Innovation, a prize of at least $100,000 to be given out every other year. The senator said a prize-winning project might involve developing single-use materials that would decompose, for example.

Murphy said he is most excited about the part of the proposed legislation that establishes a pathway for the U.S., with congressional authorization, to begin negotiations for a new international agreement.

“The United States is a relatively good actor in this space, and relative’s an important term, because Southeast Asia is where so much of this problem lies,” he said. “Ninety percent of the plastics that enter the ocean come from 10 rivers in the world. Eight of those are in Asia.”

A Citizens’ Climate Lobby representative asked the senator about the possibility of tying in legislation to a carbon tax — or fee on fuels that produce emissions — which has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

In response, Murphy said the politics of carbon are getting worse, noting that former Republican Sen. Bob Inglis supported a carbon tax years ago but then was unseated in the South Carolina Republican primary in 2010.

“We’ve got Republican buy-in on the trust fund and the Genius Prize and the international agreement, and so let’s keep it,” Murphy said explaining his reluctance to tie carbon legislation to Save Our Seas 2.0. “And that’s not a satisfactory answer, because we’ve got to be able to walk and chew gum.”

John Phetteplace, director of solid waste and recycling for the town of Stonington, spoke in favor of towns moving to pay-as-you-throw for trash, something he said is done in 60 percent of Massachusetts towns but only a handful of Connecticut ones, including Stonington.

It’s difficult to get through politically, Phetteplace said, but once enacted, people understand and it’s not as expensive as they thought it would be.

Lauren Gauthier — a special projects manager for an oyster farm, young mother and Republican candidate for Groton Town Council — talked about educating restaurants and restaurant advocacy groups.

She added, “As a parent, I would really like to see local options of being able to bring back glass food containers and have them refilled, because prepared food is what makes my life easier.” But she noted there are regulatory hurdles for sanitary reasons.

Molly Jacobs of Project Oceanology encouraged Murphy to explore as many connections as possible with public education and outreach, while another attendee said she wanted money from the trust fund to go toward advertising to restaurants.

Similarly, Rise Up Mystic member Martha Crum commented, “Innovation is not just about technology, but innovation can be about changing culture, as well.”

e.moser@theday.com

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