Friday, February 17, 2012

Three New* Threats to Our Ocean

Recently, three new programmatic changes at the federal level are threatening our clean ocean economy and clean ocean zone.

1. EPA To Cut Clean Beach Programs

First, in a shocking turn of events, the EPA announced that, in President Obama’s 2013 EPA budget, they will no longer be implementing the “Beaches Program” or issuing Beaches Program grants to states.

The Beaches Program, under the Clean Water Act and the “BEACH Act” is a program at the EPA for protecting the health of swimmers and beachgoers from sewage and pollution risks.

Each year, in furtherance of these goals, the EPA works on:
  • promoting recreational water quality programs nationwide,
  • creating scientific improvements that support timely recreational water monitoring and reporting,
  • issuing grants (~$10 million in 2012) to eligible coastal states to develop and implement beach monitoring and notification programs,
  • publishing an annual Beach Notification Summary, giving information on beach water quality monitoring, beach advisories and closings, pollution sources, and state and local beach program contacts to the public, and
  • developing new or revised recreational water criteria for the most up-to-date protection of public health.
Unfortunately, the President’s EPA budget proposes ending this program:

“To help meet the fiscal challenges of FY 2013, the EPA has reviewed its programs for areas where any potential efficiencies and streamlining can yield savings and is eliminating the Beach Program.”

The report continues:

“While beach monitoring continues to be important to protect human health and especially sensitive individuals, … [n]o additional funding will be provided for the following: (1) implementing monitoring and notification programs consistent with the EPA’s National Beach Guidance and Required Performance Criteria for Grants and (2) submitting monitoring and advisory data to the EPA so that the Agency can provide this information to the public in a timely and easily accessible manner.”

The EPA says that the Beach Program has accomplished it’s mission, yet without the program, many states will have no resources for any swimmer-safety tests, states will be free to adopt lax standards (or end testing altogether because they are no longer held to a federal regulatory “floor”), and, by and large, the public health will be put at risk.

Please call your elected officials and ask them to stand up for swimmer safety by re-authorizing this program to give states the science and tools they need!

2. Renewed Atlantic Ocean Oil Drilling Push in the House – H.R. 7

Second, the House of Representatives yesterday passed a bill which opens up the Atlantic Ocean to oil drilling – as soon as this year!  The bill, a floor-modified version of HR 3408, requires that a large portion of the ocean off of the coast of Virginia be opened for drilling almost immediately, and that the rest of the Atlantic Ocean be considered open for business as well.

When this bill was being debated in Committee (before hitting the House floor), New Jersey Representatives Pallone, Holt, and Runyan all voted against the bill (roll call votes). 

Once the bill hit the House floor, one amendment was proposed that would ban drilling in any ocean areas that would “affect” New York or New Jersey  - essentially banning drilling in Virginia and points south in the Atlantic.  In the vote on the amendment, 5 of New Jersey’s 6 Republican Representatives voted to pass it (Mr. Garrett was the lone NJ Congressman voting against this ocean-protection amendment), standing with the united Democratic NJ Delegation in defense of the shore.   

For 50 years, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have fought to keep the Atlantic Ocean off-limits from oil drilling. With yesterday’s vote, it is clear that this long-standing support is eroding, but in New Jersey, our elected officials know that a clean ocean economy is a non-partisan issue – it is too essential to the people, communities, and businesses of the Shore. 

We thank the 8 NJ and 19 NY Representatives who voted against this bill (see Floor Vote, Roll #71), but urge you to call your elected officials (Senators, Congressmen, State Officials) and ask them to take every step they can to see that the opening of the Atlantic Ocean to oil drilling doesn’t happen. 

3. Proposed Closure of the NOAA Fisheries Service James  J. Howard  Marine Sciences Laboratory on Sandy Hook

Third, President Obama announced in the budget proposal for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that the James J. Howard Fisheries Lab on Sandy Hook will be closed – one year after its 50th anniversary celebration. 

The decision to close this lab could not have been made at a more inopportune time.  Our oceans, and the Mid-Atlantic Ocean this lab directly adjoins, are changing.  For the first time in decades, there may be oil drilling in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean, most notably in Virginia.  Your Department of Interior recently announced lease availability for over 800 square miles of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean.  The shores of this region are the most densely populated in the nation.  The fisheries, tourism, and recreation value of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean is nearly incalculable.  Algal blooms, sewage spills, sedimentation, and the science of managing the Port of New York all fall within the scientific ambit of this region. 

The research undertaken at the Howard Lab on these issues, and on ocean acidification and climate change impacts to marine ecosystems, are the foundation upon which informed decisionmaking is built. Indeed, this lab was recently recognized by NOAA leadership as the premier state-of-the-art facility for conducting ocean acidification research on the East Coast.  Moreover, research conducted at the lab is instrumental in ongoing planning efforts for the siting of the first offshore wind facilities in the United States – a priority for your Administration.

Senators Lautenberg and Menendez, with Congressman Pallone pledged to prevent the closing of the Lab in a letter sent directly to the President


To find out how you can help on any of these issues, contact the Clean Ocean Action office at 732-872-0111 and ask for Zach, or email

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