In 2020 Climate became a serious national election issue. On Tuesday, Oct. 20, House Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee introduced an “Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act,” the first bill ever aimed at using ocean and coastal resources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while helping coastal communities equitably adapt to climate change impacts.
It’s an overdue corrective not only to 50 years of inadequate U.S. climate policy, but also to the Green New Deal framework of 2019, which proposed a full blown progressive agenda for a clean energy revolution, but failed to address our ocean.
The new ocean climate bill will, among other things, halt new offshore oil drilling, promote offshore wind and expand efforts to protect coastal ecosystems for carbon sequestration, improved wildlife habitat and coastal storm protection. "Climate proposals have ignored the ocean for far too long," noted House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) in a video news conference, a sentiment echoed by former NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, who called the bill, “a booming wake-up call to the climate community."
The lack of focus on our public seas and coastlines in addressing climate change has been particularly egregious given that the ocean economy is worth $373 billion and that 127 million Americans live in coastal counties increasingly impacted by rising, warming, acidifying ocean waters.
That is why in the wake of the Green New Deal our organizations launched an Ocean Climate Action Plan based on the recommendations of a broad coalition of ocean stakeholders in the private sector, government and civil society.
We were particularly pleased to see that many of our specific recommendations have been incorporated into the current version of the House bill, including higher offshore wind energy targets, a greater focus on equity for frontline communities of color, plus opportunities to fund a new coastal restoration workforce to provide good, well-paying jobs across the country.
A range of challenges remain involving the ocean-climate connection, and a single bill, even an unprecedented one like this, cannot contain everything. This is why federal flood insurance reform, the greening of our ports and shipping and some other crucial aspects of the Ocean Climate Action Plan will have to be addressed in other bills. In addition, there are still areas where this one could be strengthened.
For example the bill promotes shovel-ready living shoreline projects but lack of information on the part of developers and public agencies makes it easier to opt for “grey infrastructure” such as seawalls. We believe the Army Corps of Engineers should be directed to follow their San Francisco District’s example in establishing regionally specific engineering standards to assess environmental and economic benefits of living shorelines such as salt marshes, dunes and oyster reefs for coastal protection.
Just as the replacement of whale oil with rock oil (petroleum) led to a huge expansion of innovation and economic opportunity in the late 19th century, a transition to a new 21st century blue economy will promote widespread U.S. prosperity from sea to shining sea.
But these great new ocean climate policies will only become law if we vote to elect leaders who prioritize sound environmental economics over fealty to fossil fuel interests. Vote as if your survival depended on it, because it does.
David Helvarg is an author and executive director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation and policy group. Jason Scorse is director of the Center for the Blue Economy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.