WASHINGTON – U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., today hosted the first official meeting of Florida’s 29-member congressional delegation since February 2020. The bipartisan delegation discussed some of the most pressing water quality issues affecting the Sunshine State, including harmful algal blooms, the Everglades, offshore drilling and wildlife conservation.

Buchanan and Wasserman Schultz were joined by U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Kathy Castor, Mario Diaz-Balart, Neal Dunn, Lois Frankel, Scott Franklin, Carlos Gimenez, Brian Mast, Stephanie Murphy, John Rutherford, Darren Soto and Michael Waltz.

“Florida’s oceans and pristine waterways are essential to our state’s economy and way of life,” said Buchanan. “I appreciate our distinguished panelists for their participation and thoughtful insight into water quality issues and for their suggestions about how we can work together as a delegation to combat some of the challenges we’re facing.”

The members began the meeting with a moment of silence in memory of the late Rep. Alcee Hastings, former co-chair of the Florida delegation with Buchanan. Hastings tragically lost his battle with cancer earlier this year.

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The Florida delegation heard from a diverse panel of subject matter experts including Dr. Michael P. Crosby, president and CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota.

Buchanan has worked with Dr. Crosby on water quality issues for many years and personally invited him to speak at today’s meeting. During his testimony, Dr. Crosby stressed the need for a new science-based seagrass restoration project.

Seagrass is the main food source for manatees, which have been dying off at an alarming rate. There is broad consensus among marine biologists and conservationists that the driving force behind the rapidly growing death rate is the degradation of the water quality in manatee habitats, growing levels of water pollution and an increase of harmful algal blooms that kill off seagrass.

The other panelists at today’s hearing included Colonel James L. Booth, district commander, Jacksonville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Wesley R. Brooks, director of federal affairs, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP); and Michael Messmer, federal policy manager of Oceana.

"All of Florida’s Congressional Members appreciate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Oceana, and Mote Lab for providing key information and updates at today’s delegation meeting," said Wasserman Schultz. "We had a robust discussion on water quality issues that are critical to all Floridians, and it’s clear that we will all continue to work together in a bipartisan fashion on Everglades restoration, water quality, harmful algal blooms, and protection of our coasts from offshore drilling.” 

Buchanan asked Mr. Brooks about the recent leak at Piney Point located in his congressional district that required the release of more than 200 million gallons of wastewater into Tampa Bay. Brooks expressed FDEP’s commitment to closing Piney Point permanently.

Earlier this year, Buchanan conducted an aerial inspection of the affected area and received a briefing on the Piney Point crisis.

Buchanan has an extensive record of supporting the preservation of Florida’s waterways, coastlines and wildlife. The U.S. House recently passed a Buchanan measure to transfer $2 million to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to examine the record number of manatee deaths in Florida this year and report to Congress on ways to protect the species.

He previously secured $8 million for red tide research and backed a proposal signed into law by President Trump to provide more than $100 million to combat harmful algal blooms.

In July, Buchanan introduced bipartisan legislation to formally designate a 51-mile-long segment of the Little Manatee River beginning at its source in southeastern Hillsborough County flowing downstream to the point at which the river enters Tampa Bay, as a national “scenic” river.

Buchanan has also introduced the Manatee Protection Act, H.R. 4946, to officially upgrade the West Indian manatee from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). According to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), 984 manatees have died since the beginning of the year, shattering the previous record of 830 deaths in all of 2013. The Manatee Protection Act will require the FWS to refocus their attention on manatee population rehabilitation and allows for increased federal resources, including more funding and personnel, to prevent additional manatee deaths.

In 2019, the U.S. House overwhelmingly approved Buchanan’s measure to study the impact of red tide on human health. Buchanan’s amendment instructs the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to designate $6.25 million to research the long-term health effects of red tide and other harmful algal blooms.