Portman, Bipartisan Colleagues Applaud House Passage of Conservation Legislation to Protect Tropical Forests & Coral Reef Ecosystems

November 18, 2020 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), along with Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for passing their bipartisan Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act of 2020. U.S. Representatives Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Brad Sherman (D-CA) led the companion legislation in the House.

This legislation reauthorizes a program, known as a debt-for-nature-swap, that allows developing countries that meet certain criteria to be relieved of debt owed to the United States in exchange for protecting and preserving tropical forests and coral reefs. This legislation reauthorizes the program, which was first created in 1998, for FY 2021 through FY 2025, at $20 million per year. Since its inception in 1998, this program has helped protect more than 67 million acres of tropical forests, which has not only preserved native wildlife and ecosystems, but has also helped protect the environment by sequestering over 50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of taking more than 11 million cars off the road. Coral reefs were recently added to the program through legislation authored by Senators Portman, Udall, Burr, Schatz, and Whitehouse, along with Representatives Chabot and Sherman, that was signed into law in January 2019.

“This bipartisan legislation takes significant strides to protect our natural resources for the next generation while strengthening ties with countries that could become significant economic and national security partners with the United States,” said Portman, Co-Chair of the International Conservation Caucus. “This is a common-sense and proven approach that has protected millions of acres of tropical forest from deforestation – one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions. I want to thank Congressman Chabot and Sherman for their leadership in the House and urge my Senate colleagues to pass this legislation to ensure that our natural resources are protected and preserved for the next generation.”

“The House vote to pass our bipartisan bill brings us a step closer to protecting the tropical forests and coral reefs that are critical to wildlife survival and human health and prosperity,” said Udall, co-chair of the International Conservation Caucus and a member of the Senate Appropriations and Foreign Relations Committees. “This bipartisan legislation strengthens global partnerships to preserve the tropical forests that help us fight climate change along with the beautiful coral reefs that are under extreme threat. This bill aligns with a wider call for the United States to lead a new, enhanced focus on conservation as a climate solution as we work to make sure our children inherit a livable and productive planet. Investing in protecting the natural world in order to protect ourselves and these critical ecosystems will pay off today – and for future generations.”

“We all share responsibility to preserve and protect the incredible natural landscapes we’ve inherited, and one way we can do that is through strong conservation efforts,” said Burr. “That’s why I’m proud to work with my colleagues on this bipartisan legislation, which will authorize this successful program for an additional five years so we can further protect tropical forests and coral reef ecosystems for future generations to enjoy.”           

“Our bipartisan legislation will invest in the stewardship of some of the planet’s magnificent natural treasures so that future generations can come to know and enjoy them,” said Whitehouse.  “Healthy coral reefs provide essential habitat for fish and other species, protect coastal communities, and provide many other benefits to people and nature.  The conservation of coral reefs and the tropical forests that absorb carbon dioxide is an important element of our fight against climate change.”                                          

NOTE: Portman first introduced the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) in 1998 as a member of the House of Representatives. According to the Congressional Research Service, since 1998, $233.4 million has been used under the program to restructure loan agreements with 14 countries (20 transactions), and over $339 million will be generated for tropical forest conservation at the conclusion of these agreements. In January 2019, President Trump signed into law legislation introduced by Portman, Udall, Burr, Schatz, and Whitehouse to reauthorize the TFCA program for FY 2019 and FY 2020 and, for the first time, expand the program to include protection of coral reef ecosystems. Most recently, the FY 2020 spending bill provided $15 million for the program to carry out additional conservation agreements. This new legislation would reauthorize the program for an additional five years, for FY 2021 through FY 2025, at $20 million/ per year.