Why The US Needs The “Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act”

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Originally published on NRDC Expert Blog.
By Valerie Cleland 

With the reintroduction of the Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act (H.R. 3764), the House Natural Resources Committee, led by Chair Grijalva, continues to drive the conversation on the essential role the ocean plays in addressing the climate crisis. The Committee held a hearing on the bill and other bills that were incorporated into the Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act.

“We wrote this bill (H.R. 3764),” Chair Grijalva shared, “because the ocean was largely left out of climate conversation” pointing out that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the primary ocean management agency, runs climate.gov. The bill has support from more than 135 organizations and 19 aquariums and addresses everything from offshore drilling to renewable energy to blue carbon ecosystems to protecting ocean habitats and marine mammals.

With three separate panels — the first with members of congress testifying about pieces of the bill, a governmental panel featuring Nicole LeBoeuf of NOAA and Stephen Guertin of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and an impressive panel of outside voices spoke to the importance of the bill with testimony from Dr. Ayana Johnson, co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab, Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš of Azul, and Hawaii State Senator Chris Lee. LeBoeuf and Guertin fielded questions on climate change from Republicans, along with questions on marine mammals, living shorelines, coastal restoration, and more. Representatives Pingree, Beyer, Huffman, and others spoke about everything from the importance of working waterfronts to blue carbon to investing in coastal communities’ ability to adapt to climate change

Members of the committee participated actively, with questions on marine plastic pollution and how best to reduce the impacts of vessel traffic on marine mammals from Rep. Lowenthal, questions about climate impacts on manatees and coral reefs from Rep. Soto and an emphasis from Rep. McEachin on the fact that communities of color make up half of the coastal population. The Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act aims to promote justice and equitable climate mitigation by prioritizing benefits to low income and communities of color. These coastal communities face sea level rise, heat waves, stronger storms, flooding, and more. Low-income housing is often built in flood zones and these low-income communities are often hit the hardest by climate impacts.

The third panel had a special focus on “ocean justice,” as Dr. Johnson describes it. Climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental justice are intimately intertwined issues. The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act looks at these three issues as they connect and provides appropriate, integrated solutions.

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee

“How we go about ocean conservation and the implementation of ocean-climate solutions really matters. Ocean conservation is not only about fish or whales, or even octopuses or phytoplankton. It’s also about people, about protecting our livelihoods and communities, about preserving coastal cultures. It’s about who has access to healthy seafood to eat, clean waters for recreation, and jobs in the blue economy – and who does not.”  — Dr. Ayana Johnson of the Urban Ocean Lab and All We Can Save

State Senator Chris Lee of Hawaii testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee

“Perhaps one of the most notable benefits of taking action to protect our oceans and address climate change through the Oceans-Based Climate Solutions Act is the potential for new jobs and innovative industries that it creates.”  — Hawaii State Senator Chris Lee

Marce Gutierrez-Graudins of Azul testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee

“The time to act on climate change is long overdue; the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act of 2021 will capitalize on the opportunities the ocean offers to combat climate change, and this bill is the kind of leadership from Congress we need to confront the environmental injustices that Azul and others have been working to correct for many, many years.”  — Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš of Azul

As we consider how the ocean can become a major part of the climate solution, conversations like these, that center climate change, the need for progress, and equity, are so important. We will continue to support this bill as it moves through the legislative process and look forward to seeing this bill get a markup and a vote.

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