To meet the ravages of climate change, Congress has introduced the Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act (HR.8632). The ocean covers nearly three-quarters of the planet. Nothing has more of an impact on the climate than does the ocean. About one out of every four carbon dioxide molecules emitted into the atmosphere are drawn down into the ocean. Sea water along our shores buffer the rise of land temperatures during the summer and the cold of temperatures during the winter. The ocean fuels rainfall, drives local water cycles, is one with weather systems, and with waters warming, gives much more energy to hurricanes. Yet, we know very little about the ocean. We are not very good at making long term predictions to prepare for what’s to come.
To increase our understanding, accelerate ocean monitoring, enhance data management, and to better coordinate across agencies, the Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act features the BLUE GLOBE Act or the Bolstering Long-Term Understanding and Exploration of the Great Lakes, Oceans, Bays, and Estuaries Act. This bill gives NOAA a stronger focus on technology advancements and adds innovative technology components to better address illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
An Ocean Innovation prize is in the bill to catalyze the rapid development and deployment of research vessels, unmanned vehicles, and sensors. Federal agencies will be directed to develop careers in oceanic and atmospheric data collection. This will result in better informed alerts necessary for navigation, resource managers, fishermen, and the general public to forecast ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and marine heat waves.
The Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act features $10 billion for shovel-ready restoration grants for coastlines and fisheries. $3 million will go to work within 90 days and will include compensation for fishermen labor and vessel use. $300 million per year for four years will provide grants to non-federal entities to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitats. Coastal restoration work will result in tens of thousands of new jobs.
Protecting spawning, breeding and nesting nurseries are nature-based climate solutions. More sea grass beds, salt marsh grasses, seaweed forests and mangrove stands provide natural buffers that protect inland ecosystems and reduce sea level rise. Meanwhile, reducing storm damage benefits the hospitality and tourism sector, which employs over 7 million U.S. workers and produces $450 billion in GDP annually – a good return on a $10 billion investment by the government.
Transportation is a large contributor of greenhouse gasses warming the globe. Bunker fuel, the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet, is used by much of the global shipping fleet. 800,000 tons of fuel oil sludge and other oily waste is dumped from ship bilges each year. Compliance with speed restrictions when in the presence of whales increases fuel efficiency and will reduce fuel costs. Reducing diesel emissions and electrifying operations will result in less toxic air exposure for adjacent, mostly low-income communities.
For offshore energy, the bill prohibits oil, gas or methane hydrate exploration on the Continental Shelf, except for the western and central Gulf of Mexico planning area, much of which is already riddled with wells. An ambitious national offshore wind goal for the Continental Shelf is set at not less than 12.5 gigawatts by 2025, and not less than 30 gigawatts by 2030. Offshore wind leasing and development will be allowed in American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.
The Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act brings together more than a dozen worthy efforts. Some are specific, such as strengthening marine mammal conservation, $5 million a year for oyster conservation, restoration and management, $12.5 million a year for harmful algal bloom forecasting, $30 million increasing annually by $5 million to $50 million for ocean acidification research, and placing a five-cent excise tax on virgin plastic in manufactured single-use products such as packaging (no tax on medical products or personal hygiene products).
More broadly, the U.S. should be party to the Law of the Sea Convention (1982). If climate had been defined as “the continuation of the oceans by other means,” instead of “the interactions of the natural system,” the Convention would have been the most powerful tool to force nations into action. With passage of this bill, we would finally be better able to negotiate international issues such as deep seabed mining, Arctic claims, high seas, and migratory fish stocks, and ocean protection.
A tribal and Indigenous communities’ resilience subgroup would be created in the White House and a resilience liaison position created within the Department of the Interior to coordinate with tribes. This bill authorizes $200 million for each fiscal year 2022-2026.
Finally, harking back to the Ocean River Institute’s first year advancing bioregional ecosystem-based management and the Massachusetts Ocean Planning Act, the Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act would enact into law and fund with $10 million a year Regional Ocean Partnerships to manage and restore coastal areas and ocean resources across state boundaries. States and tribes would be empowered to take a lead role in ocean and coastal management. Just as Massachusetts did in 2008.
Dr. Rob Moir is a nationally-recognized and award-winning environmentalist. He is president & executive director of Ocean River Institute, a nonprofit providing expertise, services, resources, and information unavailable on a localized level to support efforts of environmental organizations. Please visit www.oceanriver.org for more information.