Oceans Suffer Under Republican Budget Vision
Yesterday, House Republicans passed an appropriations bill through subcommittee that, if signed into law, would severely retard efforts to protect our oceans, coasts and communities.
Rather than engaging in sensible budget trimming, the Republican appropriators are seeking a 19% cut below what the Obama Administration believes is necessary to fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The bad news is that this cut will be mostly absorbed by programs that affect our oceans and coasts because the approved spending bill would actually increase funding for satellites essential to weather forecasting, and would fully fund the National Weather Service. That means the programs that NOAA runs that relate to ocean health will bear the brunt of the machete-like cuts. Programs like managing commercial fisheries, protecting endangered species like whales and sea turtles, and keeping our ocean waters clean and safe will undoubtedly suffer.
I've written on this before, but let’s review what these drastic cuts means for NOAA, and the implications for our economy at large.
Fisheries: NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is charged with managing our ocean’s fisheries, which provide fresh seafood for millions of Americans. A recent report by NMFS found that the commercial fishing industry (defined as the commercial harvest sector, seafood wholesalers and distributors, seafood processors and dealers, and seafood retailers) generated $104 billion in sales and $45 billion in income, and supported approximately 1.5 million jobs in 2008. This study also found that expenditures by recreational fishermen contributed $59 billion in sales to the U.S. economy and supported over 384,000 jobs”. This economic contribution is only possible with healthy fish populations. NMFS is currently working to eliminate overfishing and put all fisheries on a sustainable track, but their job is dependent upon having accurate and timely data about the health of fish stocks, and enough managers to oversee management programs. Cutting NMFS resources will undermine recent gains in ending overfishing, ultimately putting at risk the jobs that are dependent upon healthy ocean fish populations.
Clean and Safe Ocean Waters: The health of our oceans is under relentless assault from a wide range of stressors, including ocean acidification, overfishing, destruction of coastal and marine habitats, and marine debris. Half of Americans live in coastal areas, and the nation’s ocean economy is larger than the entire U.S. farm sector, measured in terms of jobs and economic output. Yet, healthy economies depend upon healthy oceans. The Gulf oil disaster demonstrated the link between clean ocean waters and a strong, local economy: oil-fouled waters led to a crippling impact to many seafood and tourism-related industries in the Gulf in the short-term, with unknown long-term impacts.
NOAA, through many of its programs, plays an essential role in protecting the health and safety of our ocean waters. Without NOAA to perform these services, we can expect the health of our oceans – and thus our ocean economies – to suffer directly.
- Ocean Acidification: In 2009, Congress recognized the urgent need to further understand and forecast the economic and environmental effects of ocean acidification, and directed NOAA to establish an integrated ocean acidification research program. Funding cuts could dismantle or undercut this program. As the science of ocean acidification is still in its infancy, impeding progress on understanding this profound threat to marine life – including shellfish, a mainstay of the American diet - is an unwise gamble.
- National Ocean Policy: NOAA has a key role in implementing the Administration’s new National Ocean Policy, which is intended to enhance ocean stewardship and ensure our nation is on a path toward sustainable use of our oceans. By fostering integrated and comprehensive approaches for ocean and coastal activities, NOAA can help to maximize the economic and social benefits the ocean provides. As a new program, funding is needed to initiate this work.
- National Marine Sanctuaries: Overseeing 13 national marine sanctuaries and a marine national monument, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is responsible for ensuring the effective management of sustainable, multiple uses within these special areas. Reducing funding for this program – initiated under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act – would force the program to cancel or reduce collaborative efforts among partners, impede enforcement operations, sharply reduce visitor center hours, and dismantle successful research and education initiatives.
While we are all in favor of eliminating wasteful spending (see Green Scissors for some ideas where to start), cutting the heart out of essential government programs in one fell swoop is not a responsible approach.
Wise budget-trimming is one thing, but undermining government programs that provide essential services to our families and communities is not a positive or healthy vision for our country.
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