Portman, Bipartisan Colleagues Introduce Conservation Legislation to Protect Tropical Forests & Coral Reef Ecosystems

February 22, 2021 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), along with Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Burr (R-NC), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act of 2021. U.S. Representatives Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Brad Sherman (D-CA) have introduced 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 2022 through FY 2026, at $20 million per year. Since its inception, 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.

“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 Senator Coons, Burr, Whitehouse, and Schatz for their support of this legislation and urge my colleagues to join us in ensuring that our natural resources are protected and preserved for the next generation.”

“Our world’s tropical forests and coral reefs are home to unique plants and animals, and they play a critical role in sustaining life and fighting climate change,” said Senator Coons, co-chair of the International Conservation Caucus. “I’m grateful to Senator Portman for his decades of leadership on this program, which strengthens community-led conservation and development efforts in partner countries. I look forward to working with my colleagues to swiftly pass this bipartisan legislation into law.”

“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 help preserve some of the world’s extraordinary natural treasures for generations to come,” said Whitehouse.  “In addition to promoting good stewardship of the planet, the conservation of carbon dioxide-absorbing coral reefs and tropical forests is a key element of our fight against climate change.”                                         

“International Paper is pleased to support the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act, which supports sustainable forests around the globe,” said Sophie Beckham, Chief Sustainability Officer, International Paper. “We commend Senators Portman, Coons, Whitehouse, Schatz and Burr for their efforts to protect forests, wildlife and biodiversity and encourage Congress to swiftly reauthorize the legislation.”

“The Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Act is a program with proven results, having protected millions of acres of forests while strengthening America’s partnerships, including in the Amazon region and countries such as the Philippines. In recent years, Congress reauthorized and funded this innovative program with overwhelming support and expanded it to include coral reef ecosystems. We welcome this bipartisan effort to extend the program for another five years and to continue the vital work of promoting economic prosperity, addressing climate change, and protecting irreplaceable natural treasures and their biodiversity,” said Kerry Cesareo, senior vice president for forests for World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“Conservation International commends Senators Portman, Coons, Burr, Schatz, and Whitehouse, as well as Representatives Chabot and Sherman, for reintroducing the Tropical Forest Conservation Reauthorization Act. The Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) is a highly successful program that has saved more than 67 million acres of tropical forest since the program was first enacted in 1998. This year’s reauthorization significantly expands the TFCA to protect coral reef ecosystems, enabling the protection of some of the world's most biologically diverse areas. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the critical importance of conserving tropical forests and other areas rich in biological diversity in stopping the spread of zoonotic diseases,” said James Roth, SVP of Global Policy for Conservation International. 

“We applaud Sens. Portman and Coons for their leadership on global conservation and are glad to see this proposal to reauthorize the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA). Conserving critically important ecosystems such as tropical forests and coral reefs is essential not just for nature and people, but also to address the serious challenges of climate change felt all across the world.  This bill is a fiscally prudent investment in managing debt owed to the United States, and will provide beneficial natural climate solution options that store carbon and reduce emissions in tropical forests in addition to conserving biodiversity in coral reef ecosystems. From Brazil to Indonesia, The Nature Conservancy has partnered with other leading organizations to address more debt under the TFCA program by leveraging an additional $22.5 million to 12 of the 20 total agreements. This reauthorization legislation will allow us and others to continue this innovative approach that benefits economies and ecosystems across the planet,” said Tom Cors, Director of Government Relations for Lands, The Nature Conservancy.

“Senators Portman, Coons, Whitehouse, Burr and Schatz along with Representatives Chabot and Sherman are applauded for their leadership in introducing legislation in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to renew the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act,” said John Calvelli, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Debt-for-nature swaps will continue to protect the ecological integrity of forests and coral reefs that are a critical component to halting the biodiversity, climate and pandemic crises.” 

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 2021 spending bill provided $15 million for the program after Portman worked to secure $15 million in the FY 2020 spending bill. This new legislation would reauthorize the program for an additional five years, for FY 2022 through FY 2026, at $20 million per year.