Most citizens could not be blamed for thinking that the big environmental events over the last 3 years have been the Trump administration gutting one Obama policy and regulation after another. We’re pulling out of the historic Paris Climate Accords; we’re planning to sell drilling rights to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; we’ve undone rules that protect us from mercury coming out of coal power plants; and Trump has threatened many of the recent land and ocean monument designations that preserve unique places and species. Indeed, there is a good summary of the more outrageous steps backward in a recent New York Times editorial. It’s all bad stuff; and most of it won’t preserve jobs, help the economy or make people healthier as advertised by the administration.
Underneath this aggressive dismantling of environmental protections and conservation is a ferment in Congress, especially the Democratically controlled House, of ideas and legislation that would reverse these Trumpian policies and take on some of the most important conservation challenges of our lifetimes. Here are a few important bills that we’re keeping an eye on, some with bipartisan support. They would:
- Address climate change which would slow the dramatically accelerating ocean warming.
- Reduce ocean plastic and litter by putting the U.S. on a plastic diet.
- Ensure that ocean and coastal areas are protected so that they can absorb more greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and lock it away.
- Urge the U.S. government to join international efforts to conserve at least 30% of each representative area of the ocean in fully or highly protected marine areas by 2030.
If the presidency changes parties in January 2021, and especially if the Senate changes leadership as well, some of these bills and ideas could pass and be signed into law. The oceans and marine life in them –whales, porpoises, sea turtles, sea birds, and even fish and shellfish—would benefit greatly from their passage and implementation. In addition, several international treaty negotiations (i.e., the Convention on Biological Diversity which will set 2030 goals for protection of lands and oceans and the UN agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction that would enable strong high seas marine protected areas for the first time) would benefit from a conservation oriented approach by the United States.
Unless the 2020 elections produce a different administration and Senate, most of these bills will be stalled in the 117th Congress as they have been in the 116th Congress; and urgently needed critical action on climate and ocean health will be delayed. Here are some of the more important improvements on the chopping block or ballot:
- Action on climate change (H.R. 9) that would keep the U.S. in the Paris Climate Accords and set aggressive pollution reduction goals for different segments of the U.S. economy.
- Reducing single use plastics and other sources of plastic pollution here and potentially around the world in the Break Free from Plastic Act of 2020, S. 3263 & H.R.5845. This would begin to address the U.S. contribution to the oceanic plastic crisis.
- Identifying and protecting U.S. coastal areas like sea grass meadows, mangroves, and marshes that remove and lock up CO2 from the atmosphere as a means of helping to offset emissions and combat the impacts of climate change in the Blue Carbon for Our Planet Act, S. 3939 & H.R. 5589.
- A resolution, S.Res. 372, expressing the sense of the Senate that the Federal Government should establish a national goal of conserving at least 30 percent of the land and ocean of the United States by 2030 that also encourages the U.S. government to align itself with an international target of 30% of lands and oceans being fully or strongly protected that may be adopted at the next Conference of Biological Diversity in 2021.
‘Elections have consequences’ is an often repeated phrase. But the elections this November 2020 could have huge consequences for future generations, either positive or negative. We believe that the health of our oceans and planet, and ultimately humanity, are at stake. If that sounds hyperbolic, think about the huge planet-wide threats from climate warming, habitat loss, species extinctions, and disease that we read about every day. The League of Conservation Voters is a good place to go for information about the environmental records of candidates. We urge you to participate in upcoming elections.