Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ-06) held a press conference at Belmar's Taylor Pavilion on Wednesday to announce their planned introduction of the Clean Coast Environment and Public Health Act of 2011.
The proposed legislation would be a strengthening and expansion of the Beach Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, which the pair wrote and saw signed into law in 2000.
Under the BEACH Act, states were required to routinely test for water quality and to adopt both a set of water quality standards and a monitoring and notification system. Through the BEACH Act, upwards of 3,800 beaches throughout the country, excluding Alaska, are monitored for water quality.
Lautenberg lauded the Jersey Shore as a source of economic growth and jobs and stressed that keeping ocean waters clean and usable was paramount to that continued prosperity.
"We cannot take this vital resource for granted," he said. "A day at the beach should never turn into a day at the doctor's office."
"Taking a strong stand to protect our environment is critical," Lautenberg continued.
The senator took sharp aim at national debates over spending cuts, accusing those seeking the elimination of under-funding of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of doing so "to protect their polluter friends."
"Stop brewing your noxious tea in our waters," he added.
While both legislators consider the BEACH Act of 2000 a success, Pallone explained that their new legislation contained a number of provisions to strengthen the work currently being done.
The new bill calls for more rapid testing. Currently, there is a 24-hour turnaround process for test results. The new bill would see that number cut to six hours, which Pallone explained would allow for contaminated beaches to be closed sooner and for remediated beaches to be re-opened sooner as well.
While the new bill comes with no additional funding, it will implement measures to create a public, online database and warning system for beach closures. Currently, data in New Jersey is available at www.njbeaches.org.
The bill will also allow for pollution source tracking, allowing proactivity in stopping pollution before it reaches ocean waters and for levying environmental fines against those who do the polluting.
"I consider this bill, more than anything else, a right to know bill," Pallone said.
Before the landmark 2000 legislation, New Jersey was the only state in the country which routinely tested for water quality and closed beaches accordingly.
While some feel that the state's proactive role in dealing with polluted waters helped to perpetuate a stereotype about Jersey Shore beaches, Cindy Zipf of the non-profit Clean Ocean Action explained during that the press conference that the reputation was not entirely without merit.
"We were the ocean dumping capital of the world," Zipf said of New Jersey up until the late 1980s, when dead dolphins and medical waste could be spotted washed up on area beaches and eight off-shore dumping sites dotted the state's 127 miles of coast.
"I think it's really important today to reflect on where we've been," she said.
"The beach act actually put everybody on equal footing," Zipf added, noting that now water quality is tested and beaches are closed nationwide.
In fact, New Jersey's previous reputation has proven to be untrue in recent years. The state was recently recognized as being number two in water quality in the United States by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"We used to be a joke," Zipf said. "Now we're a destination."
For John Weber, of the Surfrider Foundation, clean and continually tested waters are of vital importance.
"They're just not going to come if the water isn't clean," Weber said of summer tourists.
In the wake of the debt ceiling debates and looming budget cuts, Weber feels programs like the water testing done under the BEACH Act may be in peril.
"They're so useful, but they've become invisible," he said, adding "this is money well spent."
The Surfrider Foundation has also begun collecting information from surfers or bathers who may have become sick from entering dirty oceans for inclusion in a Ocean Illness database, which currently includes approximately 70 reports from the Jersey Shore.