How We Can Defend the Ocean now that Trump Will Be at the Helm of the Ship of State

by on November 22, 2016 · 1 comment

in California, Culture, Environment, Health, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Politics, World News

helvarg-pic-militant-kayakersBy David Helvarg /Blue Frontier

Like a rogue wave the Election Day victory of Donald Trump for President has left about half the nation stunned and the other half giddy.  Among those most worried – environmentalists who are girding for a long series of battles around climate and expecting attacks on keystone agencies, executive orders and legislation including pollution emission standards, the Clean Water Act and the EPA.

An article I wrote for The Nation on Climate Denier and Trump EPA transition chief Myron Ebell, is indicative of the likely outcomes for the ocean and the environment given the current political climate.

As Ocean conservationists we face huge challenges including the prospect of the National Ocean Policy being deep sixed. President Obama launched this in 2010 with the intent to encourage closer collaboration between federal agencies and to coordinate ocean uses at the regional level. What former Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen called, “putting urban planning into the water column.”

Still, some Republicans consider it the Obamacare of the Ocean so there’s a strong likelihood it will be scuttled.

We can also expect continued Senate inaction on ratifying the Law of the Seas Convention, the UN treaty by which most of the world’s nations agree on issues relating to navigation, scientific exploration and territorial claims on and below the ocean.  Hillary Clinton had pledged to see it passed if she became President but some Senate Republicans see it as a UN power grab. Because of this, we expect the U.S. to remain a non-signatory power.

How We Stop the Drill!

President-Elect Trump has dismissed the scientific consensus on climate change as a “hoax” promoted by China and as “bullshit” and pledged to encourage expanded oil, coal and gas production “by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters.”

Rising, warming seas, ocean acidification and other impacts from the burning of fossil fuels – plus the threat of more BP type oil pollution disasters means – we’ll again have to mobilize a strong resistance from coastal communities and businesses to stop any new offshore exploration or drilling as we successfully did this past year.

President Obama reversed plans to open up the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean to new drilling under popular pressure and has now excluded the Arctic from new leasing over the next 5 years. We need to make the case for moving from offshore oil to clean renewable job-generating energy. The good news: this is one of those issues the public gets in some very basic ways. The ocean is in trouble, check. Oil spills are bad, check. Plastic is a problem, check. Beach closures and pollution are also bad, check, check.

helvarg-pic-climate-justiceWe Can Advance our Agenda!

Despite what could be an incredibly divisive and fossil-fuel friendly administration, there are still several action areas that have a bipartisan history of support, and that could offer us a chance to make progress even with a new Administration and Republican Congress traditionally hostile to environmental issues.

A good example of bipartisan action is the continued pursuit of IUU – Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated – pirate fishing including the use of slave crews trapped on the high seas.  This fight was greatly strengthened by a bipartisan fishing enforcement act passed by Congress and signed into law in 2015 after our last Blue Vision Healthy Ocean Hill Day where we educated our representatives and Senators on the bill that also had the support of U.S. commercial fishermen.  As a bottom line, we know Republicans and Democrats can work together to oppose pirates.

Another indicator that collaboration might still be feasible:  In 2015 Congress acted quickly to pass the “Microbeads-Free Water Act”, a ban on tiny plastic beads that are used as an abrasive in health and beauty products but then slip through waste-water treatment plants to become concentrators of harmful chemicals in the food web of the Ocean and the Great Lakes.  We need to pursue and expand the non-partisan battle against plastic and other forms of pollution in our seas.

Concern over our vulnerable coastlines has also been gaining political traction whether its linked to restoring Louisiana’s receding coastal bayous or addressing harmful algal blooms (aka “green sludge”) that’s been impacting the economy and environment of Florida’s coasts for over 9 months.

With President-elect Trump pledging to invest heavily in jobs-generating infrastructure repair there is a strong case to be made for the restoration of ‘living shorelines’ including not just standard Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment (sand dredging) that has a high price tag and questionable effect, but landscape scale planting and rebuilding of sand dunes, sea grass meadows, oyster reefs, mangrove forests, salt marshes and other natural storm barriers and beach builders that have additional benefits for water quality, carbon sequestration, wildlife and tourism.

Some studies suggest this can be done at one-third to one-half the cost of building seawalls and other hardened coastal defense structures.

As President Obama has said, “We cannot truly protect our planet without protecting the Ocean.”  What President-Elect Trump, who owns many ocean front properties might say, is, like the man himself, highly unpredictable.

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