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Regan Nelson’s Blog

Why Slashing NOAA's Budget Hurts our Economy More than it Helps

Regan Nelson

Posted February 13, 2011

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Late Friday night, House Republicans released their proposed FY 2011 budget, which - in 359 pages - amounts to a tremendous assault on our nation’s environment.  My colleagues have blogged on the dangerous and irresponsible affects of the Republicans ideological quest from allowing more killing of wolves, to prohibiting the EPA from addressing life-threatening air quality levels

Sadly, the oceans are under similar assault.  Republicans propose a roughly 22% cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – which will impede NOAA’s ability to implement essential services, such as forecasting weather, managing commercial fisheries, protecting endangered species like whales and sea turtles, and keeping our ocean waters clean and safe.

Let’s take a look at what these drastic cuts means for NOAA, and for our economy at large.

Weather Forecasting:  At least one-third of US GDP is concentrated in weather-sensitive industries, such as air and ocean travel, agriculture, energy distribution and construction.[1]  These industries – and the jobs tied to them – are dependent upon weather forecasting conducted by NOAA’s National Weather Service.  According to National Research Council, the $5.1 billion cost of weather forecasting returns an estimated annualized benefit of $31.5 billion.[2]  Beyond the economic benefit, accurate and timely weather forecasting saves lives.  Decreasing investment in weather forecasting could lead to more lives lost (annually, there are 1.5 million weather-related crashes, with 7,400 deaths, and $42 billion in economic losses).[3]

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”.[4]  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.[5]  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 into essential government programs is not good for business, for the economy, or for our American way of life.

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.    


[1] Economic Statistics for NOAA, sixth edition.  US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  April 2008.

[2] When Weather Matters: Science and Service to Meet Critical Societal Needs.  Committee on Progress and Priorities of U.S. Weather Research and Research-to-Operations Activities; National Research Council.  2010.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Fisheries Economics of the United States, 2008. U.S. Dept. Commerce, NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-F/SPO-109.

[5] An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century.  U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, Final Report.  2004.

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