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06 • 08 • 2021

Federal Legislation Leverages the Ocean to Combat Climate Crisis

By Stefanie Sekich-Quinn

In honor of World Ocean Day, Congressman Grijalva, along with 25 cosponsors, introduced the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act of 2021 (OBCSA). The introduction of the OBCSA comes at a critical time as the climate crisis continues to wreak havoc across the globe.

News of the OBCSA officially being introduced is particularly exciting for coastal advocates because the legislation dovetails with recent executive orders and proposals put forth by the Biden administration to curtail climate change and protect coastal communities and our ocean.   

While work on the climate crisis was stymied under the previous administration, Congress and President Biden have a rare (and urgent) opportunity to finally put forward practicable solutions to help solve one of the largest, existential threats facing humanity. 

The OSCSA is literally a wish list for Surfrider! In fact, before the legislation was officially introduced, we elevated the OBCSA as a top priority for Surfrider’s 2021 Coastal Recreation Hill Day where we met with over 160 House and Senate offices in support of the bill. 

The legislation touches on many critical issues Surfrider is already working on and areas we have identified as priorities The innovative, and bold, package put forth by Congressman Grijalva provides substantive solutions, while simultaneously laying out paths ways to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. 

The OBCSA is a suite of solutions aimed to: 

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions:  

The bill would prohibit new offshore oil exploration and drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic and Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Continued offshore oil drilling will only intensify climate change and threaten ocean and coastal economies.  The OBCSA will help the U.S. transition to renewable energy sources, including well-planned and sited offshore renewables like wind and tidal energy. 

Improve Coastal Resilience 

The OBCSA will help coastal communities adapt to sea level rise, conduct coastal restoration, and implement natural infrastructure programs.  The bill authorizes $10 billion to support coastal restoration projects with priority to projects that help stimulate the economy, provide jobs for workers affected by COVID-19, and assist communities of color, as well as low-income, Tribal, and rural communities. In addition, a community grants program will help advance our understanding of best practices for increased coastal resiliency and adaptation; and prioritizing Indigenous knowledge and expertise regarding ocean and coastal waters.  Finally, the OBCSA requires a coordinated Federal response to support the voluntary relocation of communities facing health, safety, and environmental impacts from climate change, including hurricanes, flooding, sea level rise, and repeat wildfires.

Improve Ocean Health and Tackle Threats: 

Fortunately, this bill aims to tackle major issues such as ocean acidification and harmful algal blooms, both of which cause significant harm to the U.S. seafood, recreation, and tourism industries, as well as human communities and ocean wildlife and ecosystems. In addition, the bill recognizes the carbon storage potential and other co-benefits provided by “blue carbon” ecosystems like salt marshes, sea grasses, and mangroves. These ecosystems absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and safely store it at a rate of up to four times that of forests on land. They also protect coastal communities by limiting the impacts of coastal erosion, flooding, and storms—all while providing habitat for marine wildlife and fisheries.  Finally, the bill supports President Biden’s goal to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030.  

Advance Environmental Justice: 

Unfortunately, underserved and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities have borne the brunt of dangerous environmental impacts. Oftentimes, these communities are located near polluting industries and now climate change is compounding the environmental justice problem by producing more extreme weather events and sea level rise that will inundate these already compromised communities. Surfrider is delighted the OBCSA has a focus on working with underserved communities to ensure climate change planning is just, equitable, respects diversity and helps create good-paying jobs that will benefit every American community.

Creates Additional Funding Sources:  

Surfrider is particularly excited about the newest addition to the bill that places a 5-cent excise tax on virgin plastic in manufactured single-use products such as packaging – with exemptions for medical products and personal hygiene products – and places the money in a Virgin Plastic Trust Fund, half of which goes to the U.S. general fund and half to funding activities described elsewhere in the OBCSA.  Considering that plastics products are made from fossil fuels and plastic pollution is such a vast problem, Surfrider is pleased this part of the OBCSA is addressing two critical environmental issues.   

Please join Surfrider by urging your Congressional representatives to support this historic legislation.