News about preserving the nation’s coastlines and the oceans they lead to

Among its priorities, the Biden administration wants to help clean up the oceans and make the use of them more sustainable.

Among its priorities, the Biden administration wants to help clean up the oceans and make the use of them more sustainable. That effort partly falls to the Office of Science and Technology Policy. To find out what the OSTP is doing, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin talk with the principal assistant director for oceans and environment, Deerin Babb-Brott.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin  And tell us the strategy that’s developed for the ocean what it’s all about, and we’ll start there.

Deerin Babb-Brott Well, on the second day of ocean month, June is National Ocean month, and the president duly issued a proclamation. On the second day of June, the Administration released the National Strategy for sustainable ocean economy, which is a template for as you described, sustainable using managing and benefiting from the nation’s and the globe’s ocean. We can talk more about details as the conversation here unfolds. But essentially, this is a reflection that the ocean has often gotten short shrift as we think about things to the challenges facing all of us today, whether it’s the impacts of climate change, whether it’s wanting to grow jobs in the economy, whether it’s wanting to foster just and sustainable, local and ocean community economies. So, the ocean is really a source of solutions. And this is an overarching document, which describes the actions that we propose to take and are taking to accomplish that.

Tom Temin And I’m not an ocean expert, but from what I read among the problems are overfishing in some areas more in the coastal areas, and then the discharge, mostly by accident, but maybe not always, of matter into the ocean, plastic, trash and containers. What are some of the other stresses on the ocean right now that people can control?

Deerin Babb-Brott Plastic is certainly a major issue that’s getting a lot of attention, deservedly so. Overfishing is also a critical issue. It’s important to note though, that in the United States, in our ocean waters, we successfully sustainably managed over 96% of the fisheries, the work of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and fishery management councils, their partners and commercial fishing have done a really great job at addressing those kinds of impacts. Other things that we’re looking at that are critical to address include the impacts of climate change, right, we are significantly warming oceans warming oceans mean rising oceans. So that’s putting infrastructure and homes and military facilities at risk. We can talk about examples from here in my home state of Maine, where I’m talking to you from this morning, about the impact of increased storms and the damage those are causing to coastal infrastructure or affecting commercial fishing. In Maine lobstering is a big deal, right? So, we want to address the impacts of climate change. We also want to make sure that the economic opportunities of the ocean redound to all Americans, right and do a better job of ensuring that economic development has a broad and just basis for how we move forward. So, the rising tide really is lifting all boats as we go forward. So, the national strategy addresses all of those kinds of components.

Tom Temin And how will this get translated into action? I mean, OSTP is to say the guardian of this strategy, what do you have to do to make it actionable?

Deerin Babb-Brott  Let me be a bureaucrat for a moment and step back and describe the process for a second because it matters here. OSTP is the co-chair at the direction of Congress with the Council on Environmental Quality, which is another branch of the president’s office, which addresses environmental quality, as the name suggests, and is responsible for developing and enforcing implementation of administration. policy. So OSTP and CQ, at the direction of Congress co-chair, something called the ocean policy committee, which is an interagency body of the 27 agencies, which have some kind of interest in what goes on in the ocean, whether it’s DoD using it for military preparedness, you know, and their ability to access the globe and to keep us safe to NOAA to address fisheries to Department of Energy as they were you name it, right. So, one of the challenges of managing the ocean is that over the years, a lot of different authorities have been given to a lot of different agencies. So, the Ocean policy committee helps to coordinate their activities. So, the national strategy is a creature developed by the ocean policy committee. So, what OSTP is doing is in the context of interagency actions across the board to address impacts to current and ongoing impact to the ocean. So there, I want to step back just for a moment, also and do an overview on major administration priorities, which then give us the direction that we took in order to accomplish these pieces. So those are top line priorities for the administration since early on had been jobs and the economy addressing climate crisis and equity, specifically on the ocean side that’s translated to some very particular policy priorities, including to conserve 30% of ocean spaces by 2030 to allocate 40% of investments in climate change to disadvantaged communities to develop 30 gigawatts of wind energy development from offshore by 2030 to achieve 0% greenhouse gas emissions from shipping by 2050. So, these are big picture signature items that are going to change the dynamic over time. Immediate actions agencies have laid out said in order to get to those places, we, for example, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management are going to go through a planning and leasing process for 18 to 20, wind energy areas off the east coast of the United States and initiate the development process there on that will mitigate the production of carbon in pumping that into the atmosphere, which will in turn, start to help drive the curve and diminish temperatures do all those kinds of things. So, the national strategy to answer your question is a list of actions that we will take specifically to accomplish those big picture objectives that we need to bend the curve and be in a better place going forward.

Tom Temin  We’re speaking with Deerin Babb-Brott, he is principal Assistant Director for oceans and environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. And you are detailed to the federal government. Tell us about yourself a little bit.

Deerin Babb-Brott  Well, as I said, I’m speaking to you from Maine, I live in Maine with my family. I worked for a long time in the state of Massachusetts in the coastal zone management program, ended up running the program there are a number of years, developed a state ocean plan early on under governors Romney and Governor Patrick. And that was in response, in turn to a proposal to develop the nation’s first offshore wind energy project called Cape wind. And some people know Cape wind, it was sort of a seminal project very controversial, but it gave rise to this notion that before we started developing Higgledy Piggledy, we need to be considering what are the impacts positive and negative of developing what we generally consider to be out of sight out of mind vast ocean spaces, and they shouldn’t be out of sight out of mind. They are vast ocean spaces, but they’re full of resources. They’re incredibly valuable. And lots of people use them for many different things. How do we equitably think about unbalance the use of that, so we maximize the benefits, and we minimize the impacts? And that’s really animated my work over my career and my work now for this national strategy?

Tom Temin  And just a question on offshore wind, from what I’ve seen of these projects, they always tend to be more expensive and more difficult than people envisioned. And then there’s the sightline issue, which, you know, I guess it’s debatable, but what about the wires and the infrastructure to support all of this, that has now sunk in offshore can that negatively affect say fishing, or the ability to navigate nearby offshore to get tangled in all of this, I’m just curious about that particular aspect of ocean development.

Deerin Babb-Brott  What you’re describing as the name port is transmission, the wind when the wind farms and the turbines offshore spin and generate the electrons, and then it’s the transmission wires that bring those electrons to land and make themselves useful for our benefit. Anything can have impact if it’s put in the wrong place, or if there’s some sensitive resource that it’s exposed to. So, the challenge, and the opportunity is to make sure that we understand the area in which we’re working. And as I said before, we’re minimizing impacts maximizing benefits, you can’t take any kind of activity in any realm, earth, air, sea space, right, without having an impact, right. Something is there before you arrive. So, first of all, we do a careful assessment of is this the cost benefit worth it overall? Yes, we need to bend the curve and mitigate the impact of carbon emissions. Second, do we understand these parts of the ocean where we propose to do these activities well enough so that we could have intelligent conversations with people or activities or resources that may be impacted? And think about how we avoid or minimize those impacts going forward? That’s really the process we’re engaged in now.

Tom Temin  And what’s the reaction that you’ve gotten? Or what are your observations of members of the ocean policy committee? Have you had a chance to weigh in with them all since you’ve been on the job? And do you sense there’s a good commitment to this in the component agencies?

Deerin Babb-Brott  There is? Absolutely, yeah. That was a short answer, Tom.

Tom Temin  All right. So, what’s the next thing we can see maybe of the committee’s, what might be the next visible action that one of them will come out with? Do you think?

Deerin Babb-Brott  Well, there are a number of actions that comprise the things we’ve committed to do under the National Strategy for sustainable ocean economy, as I mentioned. For example, NOAA has committed to invest $2.6 billion nationally, to support coastal resilience projects. So, where you have communities like I mentioned, in Maine, where they’re being impacted by rising ocean waters, or increased intensity of storms, or increased frequency of hurricanes. So, the federal government, in this instance, through NOAA is providing resources so that decisions can be made at the local level about what are the most effective responses that we need to build here and now in order to make ourselves safer and stronger and more secure going forward? And then how do we make that happen? I encourage your listeners to pick up the paper and read the front page because at least in Maine, for example, the Portland Press Herald I’ll put in a plug for our local paper, they do a great job of making sure that the impacts of climate are relevant and described and made accessible, not just in you know, hey, here’s what’s going on in the world. It’s here’s what we’re doing about it and here’s how you can be part of the was solutions. That’s the important part.

Tom Temin  All right, well, my measure is going to be when we can get a sustainable lobster population such that a good lobster roll is only $9.99.

Deerin Babb-Brott  Amen. Unfortunately, Tom those times have passed.

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