View Header


                     Executive Office of the President
                     Council On Environmental Quality
For Immediate Release                                     August 6, 1998
                      FOR NEUSE RIVER FISH KILL

                  Federal Experts Describe Outlook 
           for More Outbreaks of Harmful Marine Organisms

Washington, D.C. -- White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles today announced $365,000 in new federal resources to help the state of North Carolina respond to a major fish kill on the Neuse River, and said a pending agreement with the state will provide up to $221 million more to help farmers develop long-term strategies to reduce water pollution that may contribute to such mass dieoffs.

Federal officials who joined Mr. Bowles for the White House announcement said outbreaks of Pfiesteria and other harmful marine organisms are likely this summer along portions of U.S. coasts. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner and Dr. D. James Baker, Under Secretary of Commerce and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, described the Administration's coordinated strategy for anticipating and responding to such outbreaks, and called on Congress to assist those efforts by fully funding the President's Clean Water Action Plan.

Mr. Bowles said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are directing an additional $365,000 to the state of North Carolina to assist in its response to the Neuse River fish kill. State officials say the death of nearly 200,000 fish last week was caused by Pfiesteria, a potentially toxic microorganism. The funds will be used by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to monitor the latest outbreak, track water quality problems, and develop data that can help prevent future dieoffs.

In addition, Mr. Bowles said the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will swiftly conclude an agreement with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources that will deliver up to $221 million in federal funds over 10 to 15 years to assist North Carolina farmers in voluntary pollution control efforts. The funds, through USDA's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, will be used to create up to 100,000 acres in buffer strips along the Neuse and other rivers, and to undertake other efforts to reduce agricultural runoff that can lead to outbreaks of Pfiesteria and other harmful marine organisms.

"I know the people of North Carolina want to do all they can to protect our lakes, rivers and coastal waters," Mr. Bowles said. "President Clinton and I are committed to working with the state and with farmers to reduce pollution so episodes like this latest fish kill on the Neuse River become a thing of the past and our state can once again have clean, safe water."

NOAA Administrator Baker said that, while it is impossible to predict the precise timing and location of Pfiesteria outbreaks and other "harmful algal blooms," more such episodes are likely this summer. He said the mild, wet winter and early spring along the East Coast could favor the proliferation of harmful microorganisms and possible fish kills in the mid- and South Atlantic. In addition, dry conditions in Texas and on Long Island could favor brown tide blooms along their coasts.

"Harmful algal blooms have a serious impact on coastal communities both economically and environmentally,"Administrator Baker said. "Economically, the seafood, tourism and related industries lose millions of dollars each year as a result of these incidents. Environmentally, these blooms are like the proverbial canary in the mine. They serve as an indicator of larger water quality problems. They tell us there is no doubt that the severity and number of these incidents is increasing and we must be proactive in dealing with them."

Administrator Baker and EPA Administrator Browner said that federal agencies are coordinating efforts to research the causes of "harmful algal blooms," help states anticipate outbreaks, and lend federal assistance when outbreaks occur, as outlined in the President's Clean Water Action Plan. EPA and NOAA, along with the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Centers for Disease Control, are developing a detailed response plan to assist affected communities.

The officials called on Congress to assist these efforts by fully funding the President's five-year, $2.3 billion Clean Water Action Plan, which specifically targets polluted runoff, a major contributor to fish kills and "harmful algal blooms." Appropriations bills in both the Senate and the House fall far short of the discretionary $468 million increase proposed by the President in FY1999 for the Clean Water Action Plan. In addition, the Republican leadership has denied the $100 million increase in direct spending proposed by the President for USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides assistance to farmers for voluntary pollution control efforts.

"These outbreaks of toxic marine organisms like Pfiesteria are a wakeup call to the nation -- while we've come far in cleaning up our waterways, the job is not done," Administrator Browner said. "Last February, the President put forth a national blueprint to finish the job, and we call on Congress to provide the necessary funds to ensure clean, safe water for all Americans."