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6 Ocean Priorities for the Biden Administration

How the new administration can help our ocean

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© DAVID GROSS / CORAL REEF IMAGE BANK

Since President-elect Biden was voted into office last November, he and his team have been sharing what they want to accomplish in their first 100 days in office. It’s no secret that they have a lot on their plate—including managing the COVID-19 pandemic, organizing effective vaccine distribution, juggling international relationships, investing in racial equity and seeking to unify a fractured country.

In the midst of any political transition, it is easy for environmental issues to be pushed aside in the name of more “urgent” issues. We, alongside many other environmental NGOs and individual advocates, are dedicated to ensuring our planet is a priority from the moment Biden steps in the Oval Office.

Fortunately, the new administration has given us promising signals that environmental action is high on their to-do list. Here are six things that must be prioritized in the coming weeks and months:

Lead the world to eliminate carbon pollution

The United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement, a groundbreaking international pact to address the climate crisis, under the Trump administration. This was a dangerous and devastating move for our ocean and for all of us. The effects of climate change on our ocean are already profound and we know the clock is ticking for meaningful action that will avert some of the worst impacts. Thankfully, the Biden administration has declared rejoining the Paris Agreement as a “Day 1” priority, and we are grateful to have a President that puts climate at the forefront. In addition, we have high expectations that the Biden administration will actively lead the world to eliminate carbon pollution. During the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in November, we encourage the administration to champion ocean-based climate solutions—which are often overlooked—and represent the United States as a global climate leader.

Undo rollbacks to NEPA

In 2020, the Trump administration rolled back the rules that implement the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a foundational environmental law that requires government agencies to consider environmental consequences when they consider major federal actions and involve the public in making those decisions. The rollbacks limited opportunities for public input, reduced the number of projects that would undergo an environmental review and sidelined climate change considerations when developing and implementing projects. The Biden administration must strengthen NEPA immediately, restoring the public’s and communities’ voices and requiring that federal projects are thoroughly assessed—including their climate impact.

Reinstate the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area

In 2016, in response to requests from Tribes and Tribal organizations in the Northern Bering Sea, President Obama established the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area to give Tribes a meaningful role in the management of the Bering Strait and the Northern Bering Sea and to protect one of the most environmentally and culturally significant places on our planet. The Trump administration promptly undid this progress by revoking the resilience area designation, as well as other rules that prevented offshore drilling in the Arctic. The Biden administration should make it a priority to reinstate the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area to ensure Tribes in the region have a voice in the management of the ecosystem they have stewarded for tens of thousands of years. This is especially critical now, as the Arctic is warming rapidly and the threats from increasing industrial activity such as oil and gas, shipping and commercial fishing are rising, along with the seas.

Restore and expand marine habitat protections

We made great strides in protecting our ocean under the Obama administration through the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which is the U.S. Atlantic’s first monument. President Trump issued a proclamation in 2020 to open the Atlantic monument to commercial fishing, which would undermine the goals of the monument. Expanding protections of critical habitat for at-risk wildlife can protect some of our most treasured marine ecosystems and when designed for it, can also contribute to climate change solutions.

Prioritize climate science throughout federal agencies

The Trump administration made things difficult for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), from proposing millions of dollars of cuts to the NOAA budget to contradicting science produced by the agency. More recently, he replaced prominent NOAA scientists with climate change skeptics. As one of his first actions as President, Biden should fill these NOAA leadership roles with people who are dedicated to using science-based solutions to act on climate and conserve and manage coastal and marine systems. The sooner we have climate-focused people in those positions, the sooner we can implement critical policies to protect our ocean and coastal communities from the effects of climate change.

Prevent new offshore oil and gas drilling

Expanding offshore drilling goes against what we want for the future of our country and future generations of Americans. And weakening rules designed to prevent catastrophic oil spills is dangerous and short-sighted. The Trump administration repeatedly pushed for risky offshore oil and gas drilling by proposing a nationwide program that would allow offshore drilling off virtually the entire U.S. coastline and weakened key rules designed to improve the safety of offshore drilling. Even in its waning days, it was still pushing to roll back regulations designed to protect the Arctic Ocean. We expect the Biden administration to recognize the harmful effects of offshore drilling by not opening new areas to drilling and keeping important safety and management rules in place.

We look forward to working with the Biden administration and Congress, helping them live up to their promises to protect our ocean and coastal communities and climate. We will push for action every step of the way, alongside dedicated ocean advocates like you.

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