Doing what’s right, not what’s easy or expedient

Over the past week and a half, the news has been dominated by post-election coverage. But behind all the headlines about politics, serious negotiations were wrapping up on a bipartisan bill that was months in the making and means big things for marine life and clean waterways in Delaware and across our country.  

On Wednesday, by an overwhelming vote of 94-6, the Senate passed a major bill reauthorizing the critical work of our United States Coast Guard. The reauthorization makes sure that the men and women of the Coast Guard have the tools and resources needed to protect our shores, restrict the flow of illicit goods and help Americans in need of emergency rescue at sea. For the Coast Guard contingent based at the Indian River Inlet, this bill means more funding for cutting edge watercraft, easier access to health care, improved leave policies and clarity on inspections and enforcement procedures. This reauthorization alone is good news for our service members and our security.

But within this bill is another measure that I’m particularly proud of – one that will help ensure clean water and healthy ecosystems for the shipping channels of Delaware, like those leading to and from the Port of Wilmington. Known as the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, or “VIDA,” this provision directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to craft new, strong rules to limit pollution and invasive species that boats can release into American waterways. VIDA empowers both the Coast Guard and states with the tools they need to enforce these new standards – making sure there is always a cop on the beat in our waterways with the ability to protect our precious resources. 

As a former governor, I’m proud that this bill also gives local leaders a louder voice when it comes to the protection of their waters. VIDA allows governors in the Great Lakes to establish their own guidelines for the entire basin, and it lets leaders block off particularly vulnerable areas as “off-limits” to all ballast discharges. 

Getting to this point on VIDA was a multi-month endeavor – and it hasn’t always been easy. In April, the Senate failed to pass a version of this bill because many of my colleagues and I were concerned that it did not adequately protect marine life and ecosystems from the threat of invasive species. It was a frustrating bump in the road that could have caused many to throw in the towel, but, instead, we went back to work to get this right. From my position as top Democrat on the Senate environment committee, I worked with Democrats and Republicans alike, and our staffs on both sides of the aisle, to craft a solution that earns support from stakeholders across the board. 

After months of collaboration, we developed what I like to call a “win-win” for environmental quality and economic growth. Thanks to this bill, coastal waters throughout the country will be cleaner and more marine ecosystems will be protected from the scourge of invasive species. At the same time, VIDA provides long-term certainty to the American shipping industry, upon whom we all rely to safely and efficiently move goods in and out of the country. 

There’s an old African proverb that says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Although we had our differences along the way, what brought Democrats and Republicans together was a common appreciation of how important clean water is to our country. Whether you live on the Delaware River or on the shores of Lake Michigan, this is something that all Americans value.

People in Delaware say to me all the time: ‘When is Congress going to get something done?’ While these smart, bipartisan wins don’t always make the front page, they are important and show what can be done when both sides commit to getting things done and done right, rather than scoring political points. 

I’m proud that this bill will bring real results to First State ecosystems and the brave men and women of the Coast Guard based in Delaware. I will continue pushing members of the House to support this great bipartisan bill, and by doing so, demonstrate that, even right on the heels of last week’s elections, Congress is still committed to hammering out principled compromises on difficult, but important issues.  Accomplishments like these give me hope that, in the next Congress, we’ll have even more opportunities to find common ground and make progress in tackling other problems.