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Will Fukushima ocean trash washing up on U.S. beaches be a campaign issue in 2012?

Dec. 27, 2011

If you see assorted pieces of glowing furniture on California beaches next year, they may not be fuel for an all-night bonfire at ye olde summertime hootenanny. They might be radioactive recliners and rocking chairs, parked in the sand after traveling thousands of miles by sea from Fukushima, Japan, to beaches on the western shores of the United States and Canada.

The French environmental group Robin des Bois estimates that more than 25 million tons of debris resulting from a March 11 earthquake and tsunami that dangerously damaged a nuclear power plant in Japan are being borne by ocean currents toward North American shores.

Some of it already may have arrived in the British Columbia surfing town of Long Beach, and B.C. has recently formed a “Provincial Tsunami Debris Working Group" to deal with the problem, according to a Christmas Day article in the Toronto Star.

What has the federal government of the United States done about it? For that matter, what have the governors of California, Oregon and Washington done about it?

Both questions are good ones, but since 2012 is a presidential election year, this column will be focusing on the Obama administration's public response to this approaching disaster.

WHAT IS OBAMA’S PLAN FOR FUKUSHIMA DEBRIS?

One would think that President Obama, considered by some on the Right to be the living embodiment of a Big Government statist, would be on top of this looming debris disaster with a plan in place and a coordinated, effective government response at the ready to minimize the danger to citizens of the West Coast and Hawaii. At the very least, you'd think he would have promised close monitoring of the ocean trash to ensure that it is not radioactive.

But searches on the Web, from Google to Google News to newspaper archives to the Environmental Protection Agency, seem to indicate that the April 12 testimony of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is all the federal government has to say on the matter of dealing with the fallout from Fukushima, and she spoke in the broadest terms possible.

There is a USA.gov site with some good Fukushima-related information (http://www.usa.gov/Japan2011), but to date, the potential threat to coastal waters and West Coast beaches has not been specifically addressed on this website.

In July, however, The San Jose Mercury News and other news agencies reported that representatives from the EPA, the NOAA, the State Department, the Coast Guard and other agencies met in Honolulu to share information about the debris and map out a strategy for dealing with the impact it will have on U.S. shores. When will the American people – specifically West Coast residents – learn about what those strategies might entail?

CAMPAIGN 2012 IMPLICATIONS

In a saner media climate, one formatted more toward presenting the candidates’ ideas on real issues as well as chasing stories about this candidate’s many affairs and that candidate’s 30-year-old divorce papers or this candidate’s link to 20-year-old racist newsletters and the combined value of that candidate’s many mansions, salaried reporters would get some answers from the various campaigns on important issues.

How would Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the small-government Republican with libertarian leanings, respond to questions about the federal government’s role in cleaning up the beaches? Would he say it’s a matter for the states and private industry and leave it at that, or would he say that this would be an instance where federal help, assistance and guidance would be warranted? Or would it take a more pragmatic Libertarian candidate, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, to see that the federal government might actually have a relevant role here?

Would former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have something to say about the lack of attention President Obama has paid to the incoming debris, promising that if he is elected in 2012, the West Coast beaches will remain clean, safe and free from nuclear fallout – even if it takes private corporations using taxpayer money to get the job done?

Would former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich see it as an opportunity to teach young people a “work ethic” by having them pitch in to clean up the coastlines, maybe even after school?

Would President Obama actually come up with something resembling a plan once his GOP rivals began touting their own ideas for dealing with the tide of trash from Japan?

We’ll never know unless you ask your own local media to begin covering this issue. Better yet, send this url (Punditty gets paid by the page view) to everyone you know. Post this link on your Facebook wall. Tweet it. Go tell it on the mountain, etc.

Not to sound like a federal government agency or anything, but Punditty just doesn’t have the budget to do it all by himself.

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SOURCES & RESOURCES:

Tsunami debris already arriving, B.C. mayor says, cbc.ca, Dec. 26, 2011

B.C. braces for wave of debris from Japanese tsunami, Toronto Star, Dec. 25, 2011

First Japanese tsunami debris wash up on U.S. West Coast nine months after disaster (and there’s 100 million more tons on the way) dailymail.co, UK, Dec. 16, 2011

Debris from Japanese tsunami steadly drifting toward California, San Jose Mercury News (originally published July 4, 2011, updated Dec. 15, 2011)

Debris from Japanese tsunami headed for Pacific 'garbage patch' , The Telegraph (UK), June 23, 2011

Tsunami debris to reach California by 2014, signonsandiego.com, July 10, 2011

Robin des Boises English website

Robin des Boises main website (French)

Testimony of Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, before the Committee on Environment and Public Works, United States Senate, April 12, 2011

www.USA.gov/Japan2011

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