Policy News

Opinion: Ocean Death by a Thousand Budget Cuts

As a coastal real estate developer Donald Trump bulldozed ancient sand dunes and fought offshore wind turbines in Scotland while failing to win federal permits to fill in seagrass meadows and coral reefs near his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Now, as President, Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget recommends drastic cuts for the government-funded scientists, regulators and enforcement agents who protect our public seas. However, amid growing concern over cuts to the National Institutes of Health, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and other popular agencies, few have noted how the budget unravels the blue in our red, white and blue.

Stewardship of our public seas cuts across more than twenty agencies being impacted by these budget cuts. For example, most of a proposed eighteen percent cut to the Department of Commerce will be felt by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is responsible for the management and scientific study of the ocean, weather and climate.

President Obama tried to increase collaboration among the agencies with an executive order creating a National Ocean Policy (NOP) initiative in 2010, but some Republicans have dismissed this as “Obamacare for the Ocean,” and President Trump is expected to rescind the order.

Trump’s main ocean initiative is to expand offshore oil drilling by cancelling “burdensome” regulations. His budget is set to restrict knowledge of how our ocean functions while eliminating programs that keep our public seas from becoming public toilets. Among the proposed cuts:

  • NOAA – Cuts upwards of a billion dollars eliminates coastal zone management and resiliency funding, cuts the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) by 26 percent and the weather and climate satellite program by 22 percent while also zeroing out the Sea Grant program that, like the Land Grant Program that helped America become an agricultural superpower in the 19th and 20th centuries, is today helping create a sustainable blue economy through its work at 33 universities across coastal America and the Great Lakes.
  • EPA – Along with eliminating all climate work such as helping Native Alaskan Villages impacted by sea level rise, EPA’s one/third funding decapitation will also kill programs to control harmful algae blooms in the Great Lakes (that shut down Toledo’s water supply in 2015) and on the Chesapeake Bay, just beginning to recover from decades of decline.
  • FEMA – Emergency Response can expect less money to respond to more frequent hurricane disasters and coastal flooding.
  • USCG – The fate of the U.S. Coast Guard that was slated for a 14 percent cut by Trump’s Office of Management and Budget, until there was a massive outpouring of opposition after that leaked, is left unmentioned in his new budget. Among other functions, the Coast Guard stops three times the amount of cocaine as is captured at our land borders and patrols and protects all our maritime borders including in the Arctic.
  • DOA – The Department of Agriculture will lose over half a billion dollars for rural clean water and sewer treatment efforts. Also pollution inspections of giant hog farms will be cut assuring more runoff, algae blooms and dead zones on our coasts such as Florida experienced for much of last year.
  • NASA – Pollution impacts will be harder to measure since NASA’s earth science program will be cut by $100 million. This includes the “Ocean Ecosystem,” space mission.
  • CSB – The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is a small independent agency charged with investigating industrial accidents but will be eliminated under this budget. CSB investigated and recommended safety improvements after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
  • USACE – The Army Corps of Engineers would be one of the few Department of Defense agencies to lose funding – 16.7 percent, including money for building major coastal barriers designed to protect places like Houston and Galveston Texas from deadly flooding such as occurred during Hurricane Ike in 2008.
  • State Department –Though not specified, the 28 percent cut to State would almost certainly see the elimination of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES). This is the office that under Secretary Kerry expanded global enforcement against pirate fishing, helped establish vast new marine protected areas across the planet and took ocean issues to the forefront of world diplomacy.

The Trump budget is officially proposed, but it has not been voted upon by Congress. Concerned citizens should contact their representatives. On May 10, as part of the Blue Vision Summit in Washington D.C., citizen advocates from more than twenty coastal and inland states will visit Capitol Hill offices to protest these cuts and call for greater investment in a healthy ocean and coastal economy from sea to shining sea. For more information, click here.

By: David Helvarg, Executive Director of Blue Frontier

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