Bill to Strengthen BEACH Act Protection

U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N..J.), Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), and Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif.) and U.S. Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) introduced legislation on April 24 requiring tough new beach water quality testing and public notification standards so that beachgoers are better informed about the safety of their beaches.

The Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act of 2009 reauthorizes grants awarded to states through the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act through 2013. It also will increase the annual grant levels from $30 million to $60 million. The legislation requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to approve the use of rapid testing methods that detect bathing water contamination in two hours or less.

Current water quality monitoring tests, like those used in New Jersey, only test for bacteria levels and take 24 to 48 hours to produce reliable results. During this time, many beachgoers can be unknowingly exposed to harmful pathogens. More immediate results would prevent beaches from remaining open when high levels of bacteria are found.

In addition to the water quality monitoring and notification standards currently required under the BEACH Act, the legislation would expand the scope to include pollution source tracking and prevention efforts. The bill also requires that beach water quality violations are disclosed not only to the public but also to all relevant state agencies with beach water pollution authority.

The Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act will hold states accountable by requiring the EPA administrator to conduct annual reviews of grantees' compliance with the BEACH Act process requirements. Grantees will have one year to comply with the new environmental standards or be required to pay at least a 50 percent match for their grant until they come back into compliance.

"This legislation will help protect our environment and the health of families who enjoy our nation's beaches," Bishop said. "We treasure our beaches and waterways which produce thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for Long Island. But we can’t take them for granted. Fishermen and families need to feel confident that we will protect their health and safety."

"For eight years, the BEACH Act has given beachgoers the peace of mind that the shores they visit are clean," Pallone said. "This legislation begins the process of strengthening this important law to ensure that our oceans and the families that enjoy them are protected. Keeping our beaches safe is critical to local economies in New Jersey that depend on the billions of dollars in tourism and recreation revenues."

"When beachgoers go for a swim, they should have confidence on day one that the dip will not require a trip to the doctor's office," said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action in New Jersey. "These bills speed up the tests and provide same day test results, which is essential for protecting public heath. It also provides funds to track down sources of pollution. It is long-overdue good news for the millions of citizens that flock to our shores, and we urge swift passage."