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2018:  JAN | FEB

Ocean Policy in Trump’s First 100 Days
Laura Cantral
America’s oceans are changing dramatically and rapidly. Ocean temperatures are rising, accelerating the rate of sea level rise and increasing coastal flooding and land loss. Warmer waters will lead to more intense coastal storms, which threaten the lives and safety of coastal residents, the integrity of public and private infrastructure, and key industries.

As our oceans change, they are also becoming increasingly busy. New uses such as offshore wind have cropped up alongside existing ocean and coastal industries such as fishing, shipping, offshore oil and gas, and tourism. Coastal communities stand poised to take advantage of new opportunities and adapt to new challenges.

As the director of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (Joint Initiative), a bipartisan group of senior ocean policy leaders, I have heard America’s coastal communities express concerns about our changing oceans. Over the past two years, the Joint Initiative travelled U.S. coastlines to meet with local and regional leaders at roundtables on the East, West and Gulf Coasts and in the Alaskan Arctic. Stakeholders representing community leaders, key ocean industries, environmental advocates and all levels of government gathered to discuss ocean and coastal issues of regional importance and national significance. They identified opportunities, highlighted challenges, expressed needs and warned of risks facing their sectors and communities.

The Joint Initiative has drawn from these discussions to develop ocean policy recommendations for the Trump Administration and Congress. Joint Initiative Co-Chairs Christine Todd Whitman and Norm Mineta previewed these for Sea Technology in January, emphasizing the need for ocean leadership from Washington.

In March, the Joint Initiative formally released its recommendations in an interactive digital report: “Ocean Action Agenda: Supporting Regional Ocean Economies and Ecosystems” (oceanactionagenda.org), which recommends nearly 30 actions the Trump Administration and Congress must take to improve ocean management and safeguard coastal communities. It also contains 37 stories that highlight the importance of the oceans and Great Lakes to the lives of all Americans.

In recent months, the new administration has enacted or proposed a series of sweeping changes that have the potential to affect our oceans and coasts. The president’s budget, released in May 2017, significantly reduces, and in some cases wholly eliminates, funding for critical ocean programs at NOAA, the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the Department of State and the Department of the Interior. Executive orders released in April question the legitimacy of marine sanctuaries and monuments and call for a review of offshore energy regulations to encourage energy exploration and production, even in areas of the Arctic and Atlantic where activities were prohibited. The Joint Initiative is concerned the Trump Administration’s recent activities have the potential to negatively affect the economy, the environment and the American people.

The president’s budget for fiscal year 2018 stands in stark contrast to Ocean Action Agenda recommendations that, if enacted, would allow present and future generations of Americans to continue to benefit from the jobs, food, health, recreation and overall well-being that America’s oceans, coasts and Great Lakes provide. The budget undermines the mandates of federal agencies to protect and serve communities and manage ocean resources. Severe reductions in funding for ocean and coastal programs would affect every coastal state’s ability to provide valuable services to communities and ensure they remain engines of economic growth in a rapidly changing world. Proposed cuts to scientific research and infrastructure would hinder programs critical to the U.S. economy, health and national security.

The Joint Initiative is also troubled by the administration’s decision to revisit the designation and expansion of national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments. As our Ocean Action Agenda explains, the protection of ecologically and culturally significant ocean and coastal areas is in our national interest. Such protection improves fish stocks, bolsters food security, promotes marine biodiversity and buffers against rapidly changing ocean conditions, all of which benefit the health and well-being of the American people.

We are also concerned by the administration’s decision to revisit a host of offshore energy rules and regulations. While offshore oil and gas continues to be an important way to meet energy needs, it should be carried out safely, while balancing the needs of the environment and the economy. We urge the administration to foster a responsible approach to offshore energy development.

Despite these recent developments, the Joint Initiative continues to be optimistic. Congress did not mirror the sharp cuts proposed in the president’s budget, leaving funding for ocean and coastal programs largely intact in the omnibus package for fiscal year 2017. Furthermore, the prospects of a bipartisan infrastructure package present an opportunity to restore coastal infrastructure, which can help protect coastal communities, grow their economies and create jobs.

It is imperative the Trump Administration and Congress consider America’s oceans, coasts and Great Lakes as they formulate federal policies. The Joint Initiative stands ready to assist them as they fulfill their responsibility to strengthen our ocean-dependent economy, ensure responsible stewardship of ocean resources, protect vulnerable coastal communities and provide opportunities for growth.

Laura Cantral is a partner at the Meridian Institute and director of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, a collaborative, bipartisan effort of experienced thought leaders and ocean champions that offers high-level, credible leadership on ocean policy issues. Prior to joining Meridian in 2005, she was the associate director for governance for the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

2018:  JAN | FEB

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