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What Obama’s Budget Proposal Means for the Oceans

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

On Monday, President Obama released his 2012 budget proposal. It provided an interesting look into what the administration is attempting to define as of its priorities for the coming year.   Congress, of course, has its own priorities and will see the President’s budget as merely an input to their process, which may result in a very different output.  Nonetheless, the President’s budget shows his willingness to send leadership signals on several issues that are important to the health of our oceans.

First up is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) budget. NOAA has a small ($56.8 million) proposed decrease from its last budget (2010) of $5.5 billion. Within this total, the National Marine Fisheries Service, which manages U.S. fish stocks (a major issue for Ocean Champions) is also looking at a small decrease of $15.1 million, putting it at $993.1 million. NOAA’s approach is to improve its understanding of fishery health through increased assessments and research, and to rebuild them through recovery grants and innovative management frameworks like . Their budget includes a $54 million request for catch shares infrastructure to provide those fisheries that have already opted into the program with the tools for success.  On that note, we were very pleased to see continued support for catch shares, which are a priority for NOAA Administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, and have a growing history of success for both fish and fishermen.

The Department of Energy gets a boost from the President with a budget increase of 12% from 2010 to $29.5 billion (though total outlays will drop because 2009 stimulus money will run out). Obama is focused on clean energy investment, and if the administration has its way, solar, geothermal, biomass and wind energy would get big increases. In fact, the budget would devote $3.2 billion to energy efficiency and renewable energy, which is a $1 billion increase over the 2010 appropriation.  Every little bit counts here, as reducing CO2 emissions is the only way to stop the increasing acidification of our oceans – a process that threatens the entire food web.  On the flipside, Obama has proposed major cuts in subsidies given to the oil and gas industry.  While we support such a move, it is unlikely to get very far in Congress.

Each year, the USDA budget includes funding for land conservation that can help reduce agricultural runoff.  Unfortunately the President’s , affecting many acres of wetlands and farmlands. Specific programs getting reductions are the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) All three of these programs are voluntary; EQIP and CSP and provide farmers and ranchers with an opportunity to reduce pollution, runoff and emissions through paying much of the costs of becoming more environmentally sustainable, such as foregone income and incurred costs in improving equipment or management activities. Under a similar type of framework, WRP provides technical and financial aid to landowners with wetlands on their premises to conserve these habitats. Cutting or slowing funds to these projects could mean bad news for efforts at lessening runoff and improving riparian buffers, which improve coastal water quality.

Of course, we can’t forget the battle-worn EPA in this discussion. Partly to appease Republicans, Obama has proposed a $1.3 billion decrease from 2010 to a $9 billion EPA budget. While this isn’t necessarily good news, the EPA has vowed to restore air and water quality with strict rules. And while grants for state and local water projects will decrease under the proposal, leading to a delay in clean drinking water projects and grants, the money would keep flowing toward enforcement of the new air pollution regulations that some Republicans are trying to abolish.

With the President’s budget out, the real battles will now begin in Congress.  We’re happy with the leadership signals on catch shares and renewable energy investment, and will look in depth at the impact of the recommended cuts in USDA conservation programs.  Ultimately, Ocean Champions will be working to build political support for the provisions that can do the most good for the oceans, and we’ll keep you informed every step of the way!

Date Posted: February 16, 2011 @ 11:04 am

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