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Jan 31st
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Congressman Sam Farr

SamFarrNewThe oil leak in the Gulf continues. What are your thoughts on it?
Every night we watch the news reports of the leak, we see the dead and dying animals and the sludge in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It's heartbreaking.

I also find some of the comments coming out of Washington to be unbelievable.

The top Republican in the House, Rep. John Boehner from Ohio, recently suggested that BP shouldn't be on the hook for cleanup, that instead the American taxpayer should pay the bill—a surprising suggestion from someone who professes to be their champion.

And after President Obama was successful in getting BP to agree to place $20 billion into an escrow account to cover damages, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologizes to BP for what he calls a "slush fund."

My belief is this: BP and the other companies working on the Deepwater Horizon rig are responsible for the blowout, they're responsible for the cleanup and they're responsible for making right the many lives they devastated through their negligence.

I'm not suggesting we put BP out of business, but I'm suggesting that if BP wants to do business in our country, they have to be responsible for their mistakes. And this mistake is one of the biggest we've ever seen.

President Obama’s speech in the Oval Office was a good one. I think he expressed his outrage about the spill and the need for BP to step up and take responsibility. But I also think his message that we’re relying too much on fossil fuels is an important one.

It may be difficult to focus on the need for alternative energy sources in the midst of a crisis, but our lack of focus is partially responsible for leading us to this position. Our oil-guzzling ways aren’t sustainable, and we need to find out how to change that.

You recently had a resolution pass that seems relevant considering what’s going on in the Gulf. What was it?

Ironically, it was a resolution recognizing World Ocean Day, which was commemorated on June 8. June is also National Ocean Month, and during the week of the resolution we had a range of ocean experts in Washington for Capitol Hill Ocean Week.

As we watch the spill in the Gulf, it should become very clear that we desperately need a national ocean policy to coordinate our use (and correct any misuse) of the ocean. We have a Clean Air Act and a Clean Water Act, but no Clean Ocean Act. We have no national policy to coordinate, conserve and protect the ocean.

Surrounded by people passionate about the ocean that week showed me we have the resolve to make a change. We just need to morph that resolve into action.

The resolution was an important one. For the first time, it put Congress on record as agreeing that there is a direct link between the ocean and climate change, and that we must support policies including ecosystem-based management and marine spatial planning.

Those issues aren’t just feel-good ideas. They’re new ways to look at how we make use of the ocean. That may be why 44 congressional Republicans voted against the resolution that day.

The ocean is suffering right now, but with some foresight and some good planning, I really think we can make some real progress.

But if we don't harness the current public outrage to make some positive changes, I think we'll go back to the same old policies that allowed the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the first place.

You reported in your last column that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was going to hold a meeting on its blood donation policy for gay men. What happened?

At the conclusion of its two-day meeting, the Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability voted 9-6 against recommending any changes to the policy that bans men from donating blood if they have had sexual contact with another man even one time since 1977.

That decision was unfortunate. The ban is not supported by science and should be modified. The panel did vote unanimously that the current policy is "suboptimal," which is hopefully a sign that they'll reconsider the ban soon.

As our blood donation centers face continued shortages in blood, it's a tragedy that we ban a group for outdated fears.

Even men and women who have had sexual contact with a known carrier of HIV-AIDS face only a 12-month ban before they can once again donate blood.

It's past time that we sync our policies with our science. I’m proud of the work done by local Santa Cruz students to raise the visibility of this issue. Only when groups affected by this discriminatory ban stand up and make some noise will enough people become aware of it and support a change. 

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