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Two Rhode Islanders Join Sen. Whitehouse for Oceans Meeting in Washington

April 24, 2013, Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee hosted a meeting entitled “Changing Oceans: Adapting to the Challenges of Acidification, Rising Sea Levels, and Extreme Weather.” U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who helped organize and served as co-chair of the meeting, was joined by two Rhode Island leaders: Grover Fugate, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), and Evan Matthews, Port Director for the Quonset Development Corporation and the Port of Davisville.

Fugate and Matthews joined scientists, municipal officials, and industry representatives from around the country to speak about challenges facing our oceans; from the acidification of our oceans that threatens marine life, to rising sea levels that could devastate coastal communities and infrastructure. U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) joined Senator Whitehouse as co-chair of the meeting, and a number of other Senators attended, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI).

“The strength of America’s economy is tied to the health of our oceans, particularly in coastal states like Rhode Island,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “Today we heard from a diverse group of experts about the challenges our oceans face. We heard how ocean acidification caused by carbon pollution threatens to erode the building blocks for sea life, like coral reefs; how sea level rise could devastate coastal states and displace millions of Americans; and how all of these changes could affect our country as a whole, not just states on the coasts. I hope my colleagues came away from this meeting with a better understanding of the urgent need to protect our oceans, and I look forward to working with them to take meaningful action.”

“Sea level rise, storms that span the entire east coast, erosion carving at our shore and changing ecosystems pose an uncertain and daunting future for our coast,” said Fugate. “Our planning for these very serious issues and the response we take to these events, will determine what kind of future we will have. Senator Whitehouse understands this and has been a constant and thoughtful force in bringing these issues to light and seeking solutions. He truly is a friend to our troubled oceans and I look forward to working with him to prepare Rhode Island for the challenges that lie ahead.”

“Rhode Island’s seaports, including the Port of Davisville, serve a vital function within the local, regional, and global economy,” said Matthews. “We are very thankful for Senator Whitehouse’s leadership on climate change, sea level rise, and its potential to impact our critical infrastructure. We were also pleased to be invited to speak with the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee today and participate in the roundtable on changing ocean conditions. Most port planning horizons are in the 5-10 year range, with planning focused on land acquisition and construction of new terminals and berths. Ports welcome opportunities to increase dialogue with the scientific community to prepare proactively for climate change impacts.”

Today’s meeting was part of a series the Steering and Outreach Committee hosts each year with advocates, policy experts, business leaders, elected officials, and community leaders to discuss key priorities and enlist their help. These meetings are open forums for discussion among leaders from around the country and members of the Senate’s Democratic Caucus.

Other participants in today’s meeting were: Margaret Barrette, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association (PCSA); Dr. Radley Horton, Research Scientist for the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University; Mayor Kristin Jacobs, Mayor and Commissioner of Broward County, Florida; Dr. Nancy Knowlton, Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian Institution; Dr. Jeremy Mathis, Director of the Ocean Acidification Research Center at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; and Dr. Chris Sommerfield, Associate Professor of Oceanography, University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment

Senator Whitehouse is a champion for our oceans. He serves as co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus and has fought for legislation to establish a National Endowment for the Oceans.

A web video summarizing the meeting and featuring interviews with Sen. Whitehouse, Grover Fugate, Evan Matthews, and others is now available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Re4vRJCtqeA

Additional Photos, Steering Meeting on Changing Ocean Environment: http://www.dsoc.senate.gov/2013/04/24/photos-steering-meeting-on-changing-oceans-environment/

Senator Whitehouse and Senator Begich listen to Majority Leader Reid at the start of today’s meeting

Senator Whitehouse and Senator Begich listen to Majority Leader Reid at the start of today’s meeting

(from left) Evan Matthews, Sen. Whitehouse, and Grover Fugate stand together in the Senator’s office after the conclusion of today’s meeting

(from left) Evan Matthews, Sen. Whitehouse, and Grover Fugate stand together in the Senator’s office after the conclusion of today’s meeting

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