The following is the text of remarks by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) at the New York-New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program (NYNJ HEP) annual conference.
“Thank you to all of the incredible organizations, scientists, and community members who have joined this week to talk about how we can improve the water quality and ecological integrity of our nation’s most significant estuaries.
It’s hard to overstate – and I know I don’t need to overstate with this group – just how important estuaries are to the broader marine ecology. They are often referred to as the ‘nurseries of the sea’. This is how the subject was first introduced to me because of the vast array of marine animals who spend the early parts of their lives in them.
Estuaries also are stopover sites for migratory animals, whether ducks, or geese, or salmon; they filter out pollutants from rivers and streams before they flow into the ocean; they protect inland areas from flooding with their broad and shallow waters able to absorb sudden storm surges, which is particularly important for my constituents in New Jersey who have been through so much in the last few years as a result of climate change. So, they are really the key natural infrastructure that protects our communities in New Jersey and in many other parts of the country from flood risk.
And of course, as you all know, they are also economic drivers for communities across the country that rely on fishing, on tourism, and on recreation. In short: estuaries are pretty cool.
As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment, I’ve had the opportunity to play a small role in trying to protect and strengthen our vast and complex estuary ecosystems and in so doing, preserving the natural beauty and security of the state of New Jersey.
Now I know the theme of your conference this week was Waterway Stories: Water Quality, Access, and Community. So you all have heard and experienced this week conversations around water quality, access, and how we can communicate the importance of these issues to the people we serve. I have tried to do that in Congress, working to spark those very conversations. And with help of the New Jersey Harbor and Estuary Program and all of your individual voices, I think we are making some progress.
One good example is the bipartisan bill that I introduced in my first term, the “Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act,” which was enacted into law this January. President Trump signed it on the day that we impeached him, which leads me to think that yes, you can protect the constitution and estuaries at the same time. That was a good day I thought for us in more ways than one. The bill would not have been possible without the help of a lot of people on this call and I particularly want to single out Rob Pirani and the New York-New Jersey Harbor and Estuary Program for your leadership.
The bill makes a number of important improvements to the National Estuary Program. First of all, it authorizes the doubling of funding for the NEP’s 28 estuaries of national significance, including the New York-New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program. It ensures that the management plans governing these nationally significant estuaries consider the effects of recurring extreme weather events – i.e. climate change – and that they develop and implement appropriate adaptation strategies. The bill expands eligibility for NEP grants to organizations working to address issues like stormwater runoff, coastal resiliency, and accelerated land loss issues. And it requires the NEP management plans to develop and implement strategies to increase local awareness about the ecological health and water quality of estuaries. So that was a really, really important win that we had together. And again, I want to thank you so much for all of your help in getting the bill across the finish line.
I’ve also been really happy to cosponsor the New York-New Jersey Watershed Protection Act, which as you know invests even more federal resources in protecting and restoring the waterways that flow across New Jersey and into the New York-New Jersey Harbor. What that bill does specifically is to direct the Secretary of the Interior to build on and coordinate restoration activities at all levels of government. It establishes a program to coordinate restoration and award grants to help fund restoration projects. And authorizes $50 million annually through 2027 to accomplish those goals.
And then finally, I think you guys probably read we had another little legislative success in the Congress in the last couple of weeks after a lot of work. We passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill – the bill that will benefit New Jersey and New York and our entire region in countless ways. It was a messy process, which is not unusual in the annals of Congress when you have to get 535 people together on something. We have an evenly divided Congress between Democrats and Republicans. So, it wasn’t easy but the accomplishment, I think, was very, very great and it will change this country for the better.
And one of the things that we do in what we affectionally refer to as the ‘BIF’ is to invest in projects that can withstand the impacts of climate change. In New Jersey, we’ve got to level with the fact that storms like Tropical Storm Ida will become even more frequent and address the urgent need for flood mitigation along the Rahway and Raritan rivers through infrastructure that can be resilient in future storms.
The bill provides around $50 billion nationally, the biggest investment in our history, to strengthen our resilience to those kinds of extreme weather events and to protect our communities from the flooding that results. I represent towns like Cranford in New Jersey that are hit with hundred-year storms every five or six years and people are sick and tired of it. And they are looking for solutions and we are going to be bringing solutions with the resources that this bill provides.
While doing that, it also will help us reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that have led to the climate change that creates these extreme events. It expands access to clean drinking water; it helps us build up a clean power grid so that Americans buying electric cars can have the confidence that they can recharge and that the grid can support the electrification of our economy. And on top of that, we invest $1 billion over five years to improve water infrastructure across our state and ensure that clean, safe drinking water is a right in all of our communities.
And this week, we’re going to pass the next big bill that we’ve been talking about for the last few months, the Build Back Better Bill, which takes on climate change in an even more profound way: a $555 billion investment over 10 years in combating the climate crisis. By far the most profound and fundamental investment that we have made in that direction. And that includes about $28 billion in Strategic Conservation Investments to encourage conservation of soil, water, air and other related natural resources. And a little over $2 billion in wastewater infrastructure. So that investment in particular, I think, will be of significant help for our National Estuary Programs where problems like urban sewage and storm water runoff and other excess nutrients are, as you all know, largely responsible for degrading our water quality and estuary waters and destroying our delicate ecosystems.
Through those legislative efforts, I just feel incredibly privileged to be your voice here in Washington. I promise to continue to be that voice, to keep on fighting to protect the waterways that New Jerseyans and people all across our country depend on.
So, thank you again to Rob. Thank you again to the New York-New Jersey Harbor and Estuary Program for bringing us here together this week. Thank you to all joined this year’s conference. Thank you for holding us here in Washington accountable and for your dedication to making sure that we preserve these foundations of the natural beauty of our state and of our American economy.
There is still much work to be done. I urge all of you to continue this great collaboration and communication with us to make sure that progress continues.
Thank you all so, so very much.”