With the world's oceans and coasts facing growing challenges from sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and increasing temperatures, the U.S. Senate took action today to protect America's vital ocean resources. The Senate voted 68 to 31, in bipartisan fashion, to approve an amendment offered by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) authorizing a National Endowment for the Oceans, Coasts, and Great Lakes.
"The strength of our national economy is tied to the health of our oceans and coasts, and both are imperiled by warming waters, bigger storms, and acidifying seas," said Whitehouse, a co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus. "This Endowment, when funded, will help preserve and restore the great bounty our oceans and coasts provide -- from fishing and tourism, to research and recreation. I'm grateful to my colleagues for their support in this time of need in coastal states like Rhode Island."
The proposal was approved as an amendment to legislation reauthorizing the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The Senate is scheduled to continue debating the overall WRDA legislation throughout this week, with a vote on final passage expected in the near future. Whitehouse's amendment authorizes the creation of the Endowment, with funding to be identified later.
When funded, the Endowment would make grants available to coastal and Great Lakes states, local governments, planning bodies, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations. The grants would support research, restoration, and conservation efforts, including projects to restore habitat, manage fisheries, plan for sustainable coastal development, enhance ocean monitoring and research activities, acquire coastal properties for preservation, and relocate critical coastal infrastructure.
"At a time when our coast and shoreline in Rhode Island has been battered and beaten by coastal storms this year and the current budget situation at both the state and federal levels is stark, having a fund that is dedicated to the oceans and the issues we face in the coastal zone would be a godsend at this point and is critically needed," said Grover Fugate, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council.
"The Endowment represents an exciting step forward for our clean water resources in this country," said Raymond Marshall, Executive Director of the Narragansett Bay Commission. "Water knows no boundaries; that's why an integrated, national approach to protection and conservation is so critical. As Rhode Islanders, where every day our livelihoods, our recreation, and our sense of place depends upon the health of our rivers and bay, we applaud Senator Whitehouse for his vision and leadership on this issue."
"This act will provide funds for protection, restoration and study of the oceans, coasts and Great Lakes and will be a significant investment to maintain and enhance the health and sustainability of the oceans," said Bruce Corliss, Dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. "At a time when the oceans and Great Lakes face a broad set of environmental challenges related to climate change, this act will have a large impact on the future of Rhode Island, the oceans and the nation's coastline. Senator Whitehouse's leadership and vision in creating this act places him at the forefront of national leaders dealing with climate change and the sustainability of coastal and oceanic regions. Senator Whitehouse is to be commended for his commitment to address these demanding and critical issues."
"Save The Bay applauds Sen. Whitehouse for his visionary approach to protecting our oceans and coasts," said Jonathan Stone, Executive Director of Save The Bay. "We strongly support his legislation to create a national endowment for the oceans. Investments in Narragansett Bay's protection and restoration are needed now and over the long haul. We urge the Congress to pass this bill and we urge Pres. Obama to sign it into law."
The Endowment would be administered by the Secretary of Commerce and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). Two grant programs would be established: one nationally competitive program and one formula-based program for coastal states.
In 2010, maritime activities like fishing, energy development, and tourism contributed $258 billion to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and supported 2.8 million jobs. Shoreline counties, which include many of our biggest cities, generated 41 percent of U.S. GDP, or $6 trillion.
Senator Whitehouse previously introduced stand-alone legislation to establish the Endowment earlier this year. Last year, the Senate voted for a fully funded version of the Endowment as part of legislation to help Gulf Coast states recover from the BP oil spill. The Endowment was ultimately stripped out of that bill during the House-Senate conference process.