Congress has finally announced a bipartisan compromise on legislation to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act (WRRDA). Thanks to the leadership of Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and California Senator Barbara Boxer, a potentially damaging rider that would have prohibited the US Army Corps of Engineers from working with states and tribes to improve regional management was left out of the final bill. If the provision had been included in the bill – which contains billions of dollars in projects – management decisions for our nation’s coasts and waterways, vitally important for New England states, would have suffered greatly.
The rider, promoted by GOP Congressman Bill Flores of Waco, Texas, would have prohibited the US Army Corps of Engineers from implementing the National Ocean Policy and disallowed the Nation’s leading manager of waterways from coordinating with states, businesses, scientists and coastal users in devising plans for managing coasts, oceans and the Great Lakes. Rep. Flores’ attempt to stop new collaboration and planning among federal and state agencies and ocean users, such as energy developers and shipping interests, ignores the hundreds of billions of dollars of economic value in coastal and Great Lakes commerce, which to a large degree depend upon a network of integrated management.
CLF loudly applauds New England’s Representatives Pingree (ME-1), Michaud (ME-2), Neal (MA-1), Shea-Porter (NH-1), Kuster (NH-2), Welch (VT), McGovern (MA-2), Tsongas (MA-3), Kennedy (MA-4), Tierney (MA-6), Capuano (MA-7), Lynch (MA-8), Keating (MA-9), Cicillene (RI-1), Langevin (RI-2), Larson, (CT-1), Courtney (CT-2), DeLauro (CT-3), Himes (CT-4), and Esty (CT- 5), all of whom voted correctly to oppose the Flores rider.
Unfortunately, the WRRDA bill did not enact the National Endowment for the Oceans, a program championed by Senator Whitehouse (D-RI). However, a new Army Corps program focusing on ocean and coastal resiliency was included that addresses a great need for funding and focuses efforts on our ocean and coastal ecosystems. In a press release issued Thursday, Senator Whitehouse comments, “In Rhode Island and throughout the country, the strength of our economy is tied directly to the health of our oceans and coasts. This program will provide a new avenue through which we can protect and restore those ecosystems. While I would have preferred to establish a separate oceans endowment with broader authority, this program within the Army Corps will enable important projects to go forward that might have otherwise languished. It represents an important step in our nation’s effort to protect coastal resources, and I look forward to supporting this program going forward.”
The National Ocean Policy directs federal agencies to coordinate management activities, implement a science-based system of decision making; support safe and sustainable access and ocean uses; respect cultural practices, recreational access, and maritime heritage; and conserve ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems. The National Ocean Policy does this by providing a framework of ocean planning, a science-based process of improving decisions about ocean resources before conflict arises that involves everyone who has a stake in ocean management, including towns and cities, scientists, fishermen, conservation groups, recreational users, and businesses. The importance of coastal marine spatial planning in decision making is clearly demonstrated as Rhode Island approves its first offshore wind project.
Conservation Law Foundation thanks New England’s leaders for recognizing that partisan politics do not have a place when our ocean, coastal and Great lakes regions have significant management challenges to tackle and that real challenges need real solutions.