Biden’s climate plan can work if it’s sea to shining sea
Last week President Biden made a firm commitment to transition America from polluting fossil energy to clean renewable power. We and other coastal residents are heartened by his “whole government” approach to tackling the climate crisis, especially his focus on the positive employment impacts of making smart climate investments.
However, we get concerned when the president identifies a million jobs linked to building electric cars in the industrial heartland, yet fails to note the millions of additional climate jobs that could be created in our coastal regions and on our public seas in a new blue economy.
Coastal jobs solve climate too
Two years ago, recognizing that the Democrats’ Green New Deal resolution lacked sufficient focus on the nation’s coasts and ocean, our organizations began developing an Ocean Climate Action Plan coalition to make sure our public seas are central in U.S. climate policy. Supporters include Special Climate Envoy John Kerry, Leon Panetta, climate activist Jane Fonda and ocean explorer Sylvia Earle.
Biden’s “Buy American” executive order reiterated his support for the Jones Act that says ships operating between U.S. ports must be built in U.S. shipyards and operated by U.S. mariners. It would also be wise for the administration to get behind the greening ports movement that began in and around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif, in 2006 reducing air pollution 70 percent in five years. That also began to resolve the environmental justice demands of the predominantly low-income communities of color that live by the ports and are most impacted by pollution, while allowing port expansion in a region where over a billion dollars of goods a day cross the docks. The U.S. ports and maritime industry are well-positioned to address climate change and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) with support from the Biden administration.
Wind power’s potential
Biden also said he would “identify steps that can be taken to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030.” While this target might sound ambitious on paper, it vastly understates what is possible and what is needed. Currently, there is less than half a gigawatt (GW) of offshore wind power generated in U.S. waters as compared to more than 22 GW in the EU.
In 2010, the National Renewable Energy Lab under the Obama-Biden administration projected the U.S. could install 54 GW of offshore wind by 2030.
One of our plan’s targets is a minimum of 30 GW of offshore wind power for the U.S. in the next decade. The House Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), is currently putting the finishing touches on its Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act, which they plan to introduce for a full vote sometime this year. This bill includes a 25 GW offshore wind target by 2030. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) estimates that a target of 30 GW by 2030 could support 83,000 jobs and deliver $25 billion in economic output.
Another advantage of offshore wind is that the skilled jobs needed are directly transferable from the offshore oil industry. Today’s roughnecks and roustabouts in a declining oil patch could be next year’s linesmen and wind turbine technicians. Plus no beach or bayou was ever destroyed by a wind spill.
A Coastal Conservation Corps
Gina McCarthy, the president’s new National Climate advisor, spoke of the benefits of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). We agree. Our plan calls for the development of a Coastal Conservation Corps that can put tens of thousands to work restoring estuaries and coastal rivers, build up dunes, reefs and planting sea grasses, mangroves and other natural hurricane and storm barriers, which also store “blue carbon,” taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act proposes billions in new investments for shovel-ready coastal protection work that would translate to tens of thousands of jobs and catalyze the development of a much larger restoration industry. The climate resilience that would result would also act as insurance for millions of jobs in coastal tourism, recreation, and real-estate threatened by sea level rise.
The president also pledged to protect 30 percent of U.S. land and waters by 2030 to create biological reserves as climate change impacts — including warming and rising seas — continue to take their toll.
Luckily, ocean protection remains one of the few areas where bipartisanship is still possible. The reason the U.S. is already close to achieving 30 percent protection at sea is because one of the world’s great ocean reserves, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Northwest Hawaii was established by Republican President George W. Bush and expanded by Democratic President Barack Obama.
Remove dangerous subsidies
Finally, while getting rid of federal subsidies for the oil industry is another bold step being advanced by Biden, we should also overhaul Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that subsidizes people to rebuild in harm’s way following extreme weather events. Our plan recommends NFIP policies be based on real actuarial rates and scientifically updated flood maps, with lower-income groups given more time to adjust to new rates and more options for willing homeowner buy-outs in areas at greatest risk for flooding.
This spring we will rally support for the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act and the Biden administration’s most inspiring ideas, and continue to insist that our public seas get their fair share of climate investment and attention. It is not too late to turn the tide on the climate emergency, recognizing the central role to be played by the blue in our red, white and blue.
David Helvarg is executive director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation group. Jason Scorse is director of the Center for the Blue Economy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.