Senator seeks tsunami relief in Sandy funding

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An Alaska senator wants $15 million for tsunami debris cleanup on the West Coast included in a federal disaster relief package for states affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, said it's embarrassing that the government of Japan has put more funding toward the debris cleanup than the U.S. government. He said the impact of debris from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan reaching U.S. shores is as much a natural disaster as a hurricane, drought or wildfire — it's just unfolding in slow motion.

"We have to recognize that it's different than any other type of disaster because if it's like Sandy, you see it; it's right there in your face, everything at once," he told the Associated Press. "And in this situation it's kind of like climate change. Things don't happen overnight, they happen over a period of time, and when it happens and accumulates you look back and say, 'Why didn't we do something?'

"We have that option right now to do something," he said.

Japan has pledged $5 million for tsunami debris cleanup, more than the entire National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget for dealing with marine debris in general in fiscal-year 2012. Begich said he considers a 3-1 match of the Japanese funding "the very least" the federal government can do to help cleanup efforts in Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington.

Some states haven't used the $50,000 grants NOAA provided earlier this year. In Washington state, for example, after seeing an increase in debris from May through July, officials say things have quieted down and the state's plan for dealing with the debris calls for conserving resources where possible. NOAA announced the grants to the five West Coast states in July.

In Alaska, the grant's gone, having been spent on cleanup along 25 miles of about 2,500 in the state before the weather turned too nasty for crews to be out. The work was done by Gulf of Alaska Keeper, which is dedicated to cleaning marine debris from the Alaska coastline.

Monitoring by the group found a huge jump in the weight of debris found at four sites it regularly visits.

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