WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump signed legislation Thursday committing the United States to expand efforts to clean up nearly 8 million metric tons of litter polluting the world’s oceans.
Known as the Save Our Seas Act, the bill received unanimous bipartisan support as it passed through the House and Senate this July before landing on Trump’s desk for a signature Thursday morning.
During the signing in the Oval Office on Thursday, Trump said “many countries of the world, [including] China, Japan; many, many countries” have contribute to the spread of waste in the oceans.
“This debris not only hurts marine life, but fisherman and coastal economies,” Trump said. “I’ve seen pictures recently where there’s vast, tremendous, [an] unthinkable amount of garbage [that] is floating right into our coast, in particular along the west coast and we’re charged with removing it.”
He called this “a very unfair situation.”
According to research compiled by the Ocean Conservancy, more than half of the estimated 8 million tons of plastic and other debris inundating oceans comes from “a handful of developing countries in southeast Asia, where economic growth has outpaced waste management systems.”
The legislation reauthorizes the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s marine debris program through 2022 and gives the agency $10 million per year to tackle the debris clogging oceans both near and far from the United States.
According to the bill, NOAA will work in tandem with other organizations to address the sources of debris while the State Department will actively promote “international action” addressing marine litter.
The State Department did not immediately return request for comment Thursday.
In a change from earlier iterations of the bill, NOAA is also now allowed to distribute funds directly, where appropriate, to organizations who want to assist in clean-up efforts.
“This work has happened for years and decades,” Trump said. “Previous administrations did absolutely nothing to take on foreign countries responsible.”
Originally sponsored by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Arkansas, the Save Our Seas Act also directs the president to “support funding for research and development of bio-based and other alternatives or environmentally feasible improvements to materials that reduce municipal solid waste.”
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is also ordered to incorporate the impact of marine debris in “relevant future trade agreements.”
This particular effort is already underway, the president told reporters gathered in the Oval Office.
The new United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement features commitments by all parties to cooperate on land and sea-based management plans aimed at improving waste reduction, Trump said.
“The U.S. has some of the most beautiful beaches and oceans in the world. The coastlines are incredible. I will do everything I can to stop other nations from making our oceans into their landfills,” he said.
Kevin Allexon, senior manager of government relations at the Ocean Conservancy told Courthouse News Thursday that the bill is a “modest but critical tool in the fight against ocean trash.”
“By reauthorizing the NOAA’S marine debris program, the law supports research on and solutions to this growing problem. By urging the State Department to engage their counterparts around the world, [it] recognizes the global nature of marine debris, which spares no country or coastline,” he said. “We are grateful for the bipartisan effort here — another reminder that our ocean is for everyone to enjoy and care for.”