Environmental Policy News

Opinion: Congress Should Fund Coastal Infrastructure Despite Budget Blueprint

Natural protective coastal infrastructure, such as beaches, dunes and wetlands, create and sustain U.S. jobs, protect public resources and private property, and drive the U.S. economy. Congress would be wise to invest in these resources (and the science that supports them) despite the administration’s budget blueprint that leaves U.S. coasts vulnerable by cutting vital programs and underfunding the science that protects lives, property and ecological resources.

Countless examples such as Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Matthew make a convincing case that by investing millions of dollars now in coastal protection and resilience, the federal government will save billions of dollars in storm and flood damage later. Similarly, maintaining a reasonable federal investment in coastal science and technology offers a great return on investment through better coastal management and more effective response to natural disasters and manmade environmental emergencies.

Restoring and maintain our nation’s first line of defense against coastal storms and flooding is a job bonanza. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) estimates that coastal restoration creates or maintains 17 to 33 jobs for every million dollars spent (see note 1). These are jobs at all levels of the economy: commercial fishermen and charter boat captains, lifeguards and hotel workers, dredging crews and coastal small business employees, construction workers and engineers.

Furthermore, healthy coasts drive the coastal economy – beaches alone generate $225 billion to the national economy (see note 2) – and with 50% of Americans living near a coast, the coastal economy is America’s economy. The protection that beaches, dunes, and wetlands provide, together with the understanding of how these systems work, ensures that critical public infrastructure and private property are protected and people are kept out of harm’s way during hurricanes and other coastal disasters.

Sustaining these resources and supporting the economy and jobs they maintain takes a national investment, but a far cheaper one than paying to rebuild communities or restore natural habitat after a disaster. Some of the investments necessary to keep our coasts healthy and communities resilient include:

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) shore protection program, which goes a long toward restoring beaches and rebuilding dunes before and after coastal storms strike;
  • Comprehensive regional restoration programs and studies by USACE, NOAA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), work that is guided by natural systems rather than political boundaries and by science rather than partisanship ;
  • Coastal research programs at NOAA, U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS), BOEM and USACE, building a national base of coastal knowledge and institutional insights that can be an invaluable resource to academia along with the public and private sectors;
  • Science and community education programs, such as NOAA’s Sea Grant and Community Resilience grant programs, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) resilience centers, and the EPA’s Beach Water Quality Testing program, low-cost efforts that have a huge impact on bringing science to coastal communities via better water, health fisheries and more resilient economies;
  • Academic research granting programs at all of the agencies listed here as well as the Office of Naval Research, the Naval Research Lab, and the National Science Foundation;
  • Coastal management, such as NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management andUSACE’s Regional Sediment Management programs, looking at the coast as a vital and interconnected system rather than a series of disparate pieces.

These programs work together to collect and analyze coastal data, inform state and local decision-makers, reduce potential risks to public and private property, and provide federal support to buttress local and state efforts to restore eroded and degraded coastlines.

Unfortunately, the administration’s “Budget Blueprint” cuts or eliminates all of the programs mentioned here. The blueprint lacks both details and forethought, seeking short-term budget cuts while leaving the U.S. coast with long-term vulnerability. Reducing funding to these programs not only leaves our coast behind, but the effects will trickle down to diminish the science and technology capability of our nation as fewer research grants lead to fewer bright, young U.S. scientists and engineers.

Fortunately, Congress is ultimately responsible for developing the federal budget and should give greater consideration to how that budget will impact their constituents today and into the future than was shown in the administration’s blueprint.

In particular, coastal Members of Congress need to take strong stand for investing in coastal infrastructure and research. They will be the ones meeting with constituents whose homes have washed away, or worse, because cuts to coastal data, shoreline restoration and monitoring programs made storm predictions worse, allowed unacceptable coastal ecological degradation and left coastal communities, their residents, and their economic futures more vulnerable.

An investment in coastal science and infrastructure is an investment in America’s future. Congress must take the lead and develop a budget that builds up our coast, not following a blueprint that tears it down.

NOTES: 1) Edwards, P.E.T., et. al. 2012. Investing in Nature: Restoring Coastal Habitat, Blue Infrastructure, and Green Job Creation. Marine Policy. Available online (with appropriate subscription or payment) at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2012.05.020. 2) Houston, J. 2013. “The economic value of beaches – a 2013 update” Shore & Beach 81(1), 3-11

By: Derek Brockbank, Executive Director, American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA)



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