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Obama Pushes for Needed Boost in Ocean Funding

Posted On March 4, 2014 by

Photo: Jupiter Unlimited

The White House released President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 today. The proposal appears to be good news for the ocean and a great first step toward strong funding for ocean-health programs next year.

Of course, the budget documents that the administration released today are only part of the picture. They detail the big-picture, top-level budget numbers with only a small number of details, and individual program budgets won’t be released until later.

So what can we tell from what has been released so far? Last year, we focused on some key questions to help decide how the ocean is faring in the federal budget process. In particular, we asked whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) top-line budget number is sufficient, and whether there was appropriate balance between NOAA’s “wet” ocean and “dry” non-ocean missions.

When it comes to NOAA’s overall budget numbers, things look pretty good. Regarding the balance between wet and dry missions, the single biggest increase goes to the satellite line office, but the National Ocean Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service both see healthy increases as well.  We will not know details until additional numbers are released, but we do not see any red flags to suggest that things are way out of balance.

Here are some key takeaways based on what we know today:

Overall NOAA Funding Looks Strong: The White House demonstrated support for increased funding at NOAA. NOAA programs lead cutting-edge research on ocean health and support smart ocean management. NOAA is also the central agency tasked with ending overfishing. While NOAA’s FY 2014 funding level is an improvement over FY 2013’s abysmal sequestration level, the proposal from the White House shows how far we still have to go: It calls for a $174 million increase over FY 2014, recommending $5.5 billion in funding for NOAA in FY 2015.

Ocean Acidification Research Funding Sees a Big Increase: Notably, the president’s budget would provide a much-needed $15 million for ocean acidification research, an increase of $9 million. As the ocean absorbs the carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, the carbon dioxide is changing the chemistry of the ocean and adversely impacting marine life. This is already having serious economic effects on shellfish growers and others who make their living from the sea. This money would help us better understand the problem and devise solutions that protect coastal economies.

Administration-Wide Attention to Climate Change: The new budget also establishes a Climate Resilience Fund. While we have yet to see specific details on how this fund will be distributed, it is designed to help states and citizens adapt. NOAA should have a critical role to play here. NOAA provides the services coastal communities need to be storm-ready and prepared for changing ocean conditions as well as changing economics. NOAA should be at the frontline of the Administration’s resilience efforts. We hope to see resources from the Climate Resilience Fund support NOAA initiatives and partnerships.

Gulf of Mexico Restoration: This is also the first budget that reflects money coming into NOAA under the RESTORE Act, which directs certain fines and penalties from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to restoration and science in the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA will manage 2.5 percent of overall RESTORE funding for science, monitoring and technology needs, consistent with the Science Plan Framework just released in December 2013. NOAA, along with other federal agencies and the Gulf states, is steadily making headway toward implementing the RESTORE Act. This work will provide a solid foundation as restoration of the Gulf under RESTORE moves forward.

It may be a few weeks before we know more about the president’s proposals for specific ocean programs, from fisheries stock assessments to grants for Regional Ocean Partnerships. But considering the top-line NOAA funding proposal, we feel confident that ocean priorities will be strongly supported in the coming year.

While NOAA’s FY 2014 funding level is an improvement over FY 2013’s abysmal sequestration level, the proposal from the White House shows how far we still have to go: It calls for a $174 million increase over FY 2014, recommending $5.5 billion in funding for NOAA in FY 2015.