Congress, take care of our coasts!

Author:  Kate Gooderham
While the near-daily DC dramas may provide entertainment to some and fund-raising fodder for others, we should not be distracted by these diversions into forgetting what Washington is really about: Running the federal government, funding its operations and moving forward on the priorities of the people who put them into office.

In the case of their coastal constituents, voters are looking to Washington to support shore protection projects, use sound science to produce prudent policy and strengthen the economic engine that is our coastline.

Recently, coastal leaders with the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association met with Congressional staffers and officials both on the Hill and back in the home districts to spotlight the ASBPA’s federal agenda for the coast. The “asks” are simple, but crucial to coastal protection and promotion:
 

  • Include $5 billion in direct spending to build (or rebuild) federal, state and local beaches, dunes, wetlands and other coastal risk reduction in a federal Infrastructure bill. Assuming a much-needed federal infrastructure effort moves forward, directing some small portion of that investment into coastal resources will have a clear and effective return both to coastal communities (whose jobs and economies rely on a healthy coast) and the country as a whole (thanks to the increased tax revenue and decreased storm-recovery costs that will result).
  • Support $75 million for shore protection in the FY18 Energy & Water Appropriations bill. Not only is this a way to maintain the federal commitment to shore protection and mitigate impacts of federal actions on adjacent coasts, but this kind of steady (albeit minimal) investment triggers a lot of other funding to support shore protection… since federal dollars are only part of these projects, requiring an investment of state and local funds as well. Also, regular funding allows ongoing projects to keep momentum, rather than leaving them short of cash when the next phase of expenditure arrives (since these are always multi-year and multi-part projects). (The House of Representative appropriations committee has subsequently included $75 million in their legislation, while the Senate maintained the FY17 level of $50 million.)
  • Maintain funding levels for permitting and key coastal research and data acquisition programs operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey. Not only do federal agencies protect and preserve myriad coastal resources around the country, a crucial task, but they serve as both drivers of coastal innovation and keeps of coastal knowledge. This is a vital role, since only a federal entity has the big-picture overview and scope to look at the entire coast, rather than just that overseen by a smaller political or regulatory entity. When it comes to coastal protection, bigger is always better.

 
To reinforce these requests, consider the following points… just some of the benefits of healthy investment in a healthy coast:
 

  • Healthy coasts drive local economies and are a jobs bonanza. Studies of estuarine restoration – from the Gulf of Maine to the Chesapeake to North Carolina – consistently show that for every $1 million invested, approximately 30 jobs are created or protected.
  • Natural coastal infrastructure (beaches, dunes and wetlands) protect communities and upland infrastructure from storms and coastal hazards. These “soft” protections pay hard dividends for both onshore communities and offshore resources.
  • Investing in coastal protection now saves money in rebuilding later – so we can spend millions to save billions, as well as keep coastal economies and communities safe and resilient against whatever people or nature throw at them.
  • Efforts to improve coastal resiliency – a current watchword that really is just a common-sense approach to protection and planning – protect homes, jobs, lives and infrastructure… and look forward in a way that can reduce future costs by anticipating future concerns and conditions.
  • We can’t overlook the recreational value of a healthy coast. More than twice as many people go to the beach each year as visit all our state and national parks combined, and wide beaches are a huge tourism draw for both domestic and international visitors… the source of some 85% of the country’s tourism revenue.

All this means that Congressional action to protect our coasts is essential to the economy and ecology, to protect upland structures and natural habitat. It’s a smart investment that pays plenty of dividends, it’s an issue that should easily win bipartisan support, and it’s something that impacts tens of millions of people.

We hope our elected federal officials will put aside their distractions and take significant and timely coastal action. It’s the right, and smart, thing to do.

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