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Cantwell Grills NOAA Nominee on Ocean Acidification Funding

Bellamy Pailthorp photo

Ocean health is at stake as Congress decides whether to confirm the next head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The nominee faced tough questions from Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, about funding for research of and adaptation to ocean acidification.

It’s sometimes called global warming’s “evil twin.”

Ocean acidification is caused by carbon emissions that are absorbed by the ocean. It’s threatening to dramatically alter the chemistry of marine ecosystems and could devastate shellfish industries in the Pacific Northwest.

In the confirmation hearing, Senator Cantwell grilled the nominee, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, about proposed cuts to a monitoring program.

Cantwell asked, would Sullivan continue to support research, adaptive breeding programs and sensors on buoys? Sullivan said yes.

“Within the resources available to us, Senator, we certainly will do that. All of those are current components of our current ocean acidification program, as you know,” Sullivan answered.  

Cantwell said without the monitoring program, generations of Washington shellfish farmers could have been wiped out. So she took exception to Sullivan’s use of the words “within resources” to qualify her support.

“I hope we can not predicate it based on resources, but on the urgency,” Cantwell said.  

Cantwell says before the sensors were deployed, oyster production had dropped to 20 percent of historical levels. With the information they provide, it’s back up to about 70 percent.

And she says the Washington shellfish industry employs more than 3,000 people.

You can watch an excerpt of the hearing below:

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to