Our ocean is powerful, covers two-thirds of the planet and is home to incredibly diverse ecosystems. Our ocean also supports growing human uses and economies. The role of managing our ocean resources in a sustainable manner is the job of our local, state and federal government agencies, often through collaboration.
Unfortunately, funding at the federal level for our premier ocean and coastal agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently under threat. This funding is critical to ensure proper management and collaboration. Despite the recent victories on NOAA funding for this current year, last month, the Administration proposed over $1 billion in cuts to NOAA for fiscal year 2019, a nearly 20% of the agencies entire operating budget. There are several key programs that could completely disappear or see significant funding reductions under that proposal, including our Coastal Zone Management program, National Sea Grant, Arctic Research, fisheries enforcement and more.
I sat down with Addie Haughey, Associate Director of Government Relations, to talk about the funding advocacy work she has been involved with, and the importance of communities reaching out to their elected officials.
Katie: Can you tell me a little about the work you were doing in Washington, DC over the past few weeks?
Addie: Money is on people’s minds on Capitol Hill right now, and in early March our team here at Ocean Conservancy—along with a dozen other individuals from Maine, New York and Florida, representing a variety of ocean-related backgrounds—met with congressional offices to talk about its importance! Our goal was to highlight how important funding is for all parts of NOAA.
All the different offices and programs within NOAA feed into and support each other, so you can’t short-change one part without short-changing the whole. And these programs do a lot of good. The folks that came to town demonstrated some of that good for elected officials.
Katie: What were some of the stories people were sharing?
Addie: I spent time with our New York delegation. The stories they told about their work, and the benefits NOAA brings to New Yorkers and the environment were fascinating.
When many people think about New York City—even people who live there—they don’t often think about the vibrant ocean life that is right at its doorstep. But folks like Paul Sieswerda, Executive Director of Gotham Whale, connect New Yorkers to their ocean neighbors through whale watch cruises and citizen science. Folks can see humpback whales with New York’s skyline in the background! Paul has seen and been a part of the success stories of conservation efforts informed by data. NOAA scientists help collect data, benefitting whales and ports and weather forecasting.
NOAA also helps educate and inspire the city’s youth to be stewards of their environment. Groups like the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance facilitate such invaluable opportunities for residents from underserved communities.
Katie: Why is it important that elected officials hear directly from constituents?
Addie: The folks who visited us to share their stories with congressional offices are personally and professionally benefiting from NOAA and its diverse array of important programs. Elected officials really do listen to their constituents, and when those constituents have compelling examples of NOAA helping people, it shows how bad an idea it would be for congress to cut funding to those programs.
Katie: So we know that there is a proposal right now that would cut over $1 billion from NOAA. But that is just the start to a long process of deciding how much money it will ultimately receive. What can we expect out of Congress next?
Addie: The advocacy process for fiscal year 2019 funding is just starting. The House of Representatives has already started holding budget hearings to discuss what funding levels should look like for next year, and will start working towards their own proposals to respond to the Administration’s budget request.
Katie: So Congress is just getting started in deciding how to fund ocean and coastal programs. What can people do to make sure their member of Congress knows their constituents support robust funding for key ocean and coastal programs?
Addie: Call your member of Congress or write them a personal letter! Tell them that funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration needs to be robust, and that programs across the agency are critical for our environment and economy.