WASHINGTON, D.C. — At a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, questioned Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo about several important issues facing the state of Maine, including the unfair right whale rule as well as the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s broadband provisions to expand high-speed internet.

According to a release, ,Collins has been “steadfastly opposed to NOAA’s flawed Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Rule, which is harming Maine’s lobster industry without meaningfully protecting whales.”

“Even though NOAA’s own data show Maine’s lobster industry has never been linked to the death of a right whale, NOAA proceeded to close more than 950 square miles of productive ocean area to lobster fishing this winter.”

In addition, the rule requires Maine lobstermen and women to acquire new or modify existing gear by May 1, despite the fact such compliant gear is either not currently available or incredibly scarce,” the release said.

Collins said, “(O)ver the years, the Maine lobster industry has greatly reduced the amount of rope that it uses. And they have always been great stewards of the environment. And that’s why this is particularly frustrating,” Senator Collins said. “The Maine Delegation, along with the Governor, has asked for a delay in the implementation of the gear conversion requirements from May 1 to July 1, that would save the industry more than $7 million in lost fishing time. And, we believe, it would have no or negligible impact on risk reduction.

“The overall scarcity of this gear is making it virtually impossible for many lobstermen to find it; it’s just simply not available. So, with the implementation date still at May 1 — and that is coming up quickly — lobstermen are struggling to find the compliant gear in the marketplace. Will NOAA reconsider delaying the requirement?”

According to the release, Raimondo commended Collins on continuing to press this issue. She also assured Senator Collins she takes this issue seriously and acknowledged commercial fishing is a way of life and a livelihood for many families. Raimondo said, “NOAA is not permitted on its own to change the date from May 1 to July 1.” She told Senator Collins her agency is trying to “help locate the gear as well as provide as much flexibility and assistance as we can.”

Collins responded, “This is a terrible problem for our state, and it just seems so unfair when our lobstermen and women are not the problem.” [A]s you’ve rightly said, lobstering is an iconic industry in our state. It is a way of life. It’s multigenerational. Our lobstermen and women have always been extremely sensitive to the environment and good stewards of the resource, and it’s extremely frustrating.”

Raimondo told Collins, “I will commit to you to stay on it and see if we can do everything we can to help the lobstermen.”

Click here to watch Collins’ exchange with Raimondo on right whale restrictions.

Turning to the issue of high-speed internet service, Collins asked about Raimondo on the Department of Commerce’s progress in implementing the broadband section of the bipartisan infrastructure package. Collins and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., co-authored the broadband section of the law and worked closely with Raimondo to negotiate the provisions.

According to the Maine Connectivity Authority, approximately 79,000 Maine households do not have access to broadband, and some 390,000 Maine households have internet service that is inconsistent or too slow. The bipartisan infrastructure law will provide Maine with as much as $300 million to expand high-speed internet in rural and unserved areas. Before the full funding can be disbursed to states, however, the FCC must finish updating its inadequate and inaccurate maps of broadband coverage, according to the release.

“I want to reiterate my appreciation for your extraordinarily hard work with Sen. Shaheen and myself, as well as other members of the committee, as we finalized the broadband provisions of the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year,” Collins told Raimondo. “The state of Maine is ready to go, and the obstacle is an issue that’s already been brought up by Sen. Shaheen and others, and that is that the FCC must complete its overhaul of the broadband coverage maps. That is really important because the current woefully inadequate FCC maps would lead to an inaccurate allocation of funding and over building. Can you give us an assurance today that federal funds that we provided through the bipartisan infrastructure bill will be prioritized to unserved and then underserved areas?”

“I can,” Raimondo said. “The bipartisan infrastructure law, which as you say we worked hard to negotiate, provides a crystal clear framework to prioritize unserved then underserved, and so yes, that is the way we will do it. Also…it is vital that we first get broadband to everybody. And we’re going to do that so that we don’t run the risk of overbuilding and running out of money.”

Click here to watch Collins’ Q&A with Raimondo on broadband. 

filed under: