Ocean Protection, Marine Spatial Planning, Updates, Beach Act, Water Quality
June 17 2016

Congress Tackles Budget as Surfrider Priorities Hang in the Balance

by Mara Dias

This past week draft spending bills for the Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency were approved by the Appropriations Committees in both the House of Representatives and Senate.   

Several of Surfrider's legislative priorities are tied to the Congressional appropriations process, including funding for the EPA BEACH Grant program and the National Ocean Policy. The good news is that the budget proposed in the Senate includes level funding for the BEACH Act Grants which provide federal assistance to coastal states and territories to run their beach water quality monitoring and public notification programs. This funding is essential to providing you with the information you need to know in order to stay safe at the beach. Water quality monitoring programs are also needed so that we know where our pollution problems are so they can be fixed.  

After the President's Budget proposed to eliminate all funding for the BEACH Act earlier this year, Surfrider was able to depend on the leadership of several key offices in Congress to request the funding be restored, including Senators Menendez (NJ), Nelson (FL) and Merkley (OR) and Representatives Pallone (NJ) and Capps (CA) in the House. Learn more about Surfrider's campaign to keep the BEACH Act funded here.

Unfortunately, it isn't all good news coming out of D.C. These spending bills are also chocked full of policy riders that are meant to prevent the EPA from doing its job in enforcing environmental regulations. The inclusion of policy riders has been a hotly debated issue in Congress the past few years, and President Obama has vowed to not sign any budget put forth by Congress that includes these ammendments.  This being an election year will make the debate even more interesting and unpredictable undoubtedly.  

Of particular concern is a 'dirty water' rider that would prevent the EPA from implementing the Clean Water Rule meant to clarify protections under the Clean Water Act for wetlands and ephemeral streams. The Surfrider Foundation supports the Clean Water Rule because healthy headwaters lead to clean water at the beach, and this administrative action restores protections for nearly 20 million acres of wetlands and two million miles of streams.  The rule has faced heated opposition from polluters though who don't want to change the way they are doing things and the agriculture lobby that has spread untruths about the reach of this administrative action. It is currently held up in court though with a national stay on implementation, and it is unclear on how the timing of the legal proceedings will align with the federal budget cycle.  Learn more about the Clean Water Rule and attempts to block it here.

Surfrider is also very concerned about policy riders that would block implementation of the National Ocean Policy. Six years ago, the National Ocean Policy was created to help protect and restore our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes. The policy works to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing our ocean - water quality, marine debris, coastal erosion, and ecosystem protection. The policy also supports regional ocean planning to ensure that new development in the ocean will avoid impacts to the environment and existing uses. Unfortunately, some members of Congress are attempting to interfere with the National Ocean Policy through backdoor amendments that would limit its funding or implementation. Please make your voice heard and ask your representatives to support the National Ocean Policy and oppose any proposal that would restrict its implementation!

Read press statements issued by the Appropriation Committees in the House and Senate and a news report covering both spending bills.