Voices: NOAA funding critical to coastal survival

Much has been made of the Trump Administration’s proposal last spring to gut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget. Yet a similar effort to cripple the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – the agency tasked with managing the nation’s marine resources and, locally, serving the vital role of giving us advance warning about incoming tsunamis – has gone largely unnoticed.

That spells big trouble for our coast, where we live with the knowledge that we will have little time to flee to higher ground should an earthquake trigger a tsunami, and where tourism and fishing are our economic bedrock. Our livelihoods depend on NOAA’s weather and hazard forecasting, clean and safe beaches, abundant fisheries and careful ocean monitoring – and NOAA is a behind-the-scenes hero on all of these fronts.

The buzz in our communities recently is about how the alert system didn’t quite work as planned. Possibly, the government shutdown may have contributed to the alert system breakdown. Regardless of what we learn from this “real-life dry run,” it underscores the point that we need a real fiscal year budget, not a never-ending series of short-term spending bills, and that NOAA’s programs need the funding so that it can be done right. Literally, our lives are on the line.

As you know from the recent government shutdown, Congress ended up passing yet another short-term spending bill – aka, Continuing Resolution – to keep the government open and running through Feb. 8. Congress will need to come to some sort of agreement ahead of Feb. 8 on the new FY2018 budget, including agency funding levels.

Ocean and marine resource management is a huge, multifaceted job and that is part and parcel of our federal budget. It would be impractical for every coastal town to do it on its own, so we take a collaborative approach. That collaborative model is entirely reliant on support from various NOAA programs.

As it stands today, three NOAA budget proposals are floating around. The White House’s proposal was first, and called for a crippling $900 million cut, zeroing out many important programs. Next the House of Representatives offered a plan with $700 million stripped from the agency’s budget. Finally the Senate released its version last fall, which generally maintains funding at current levels. The next step is the Conference Committee where the House and Senate will debate and attempt to bridge the yawning gap in these numbers. That, we hope, will occur ahead of the February 8 deadline Congress has set for itself.

Coastal Washington’s Congressional representatives – Reps. Derek Kilmer and Jaime Herrera Beutler, and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell – have all spoken out in defense of NOAA funding. The tsunami watch/warning after the earthquake in Alaska reminds us how important stable government funding of NOAA is to our health and safety, living on the coast. As Congress moves into the budgetary endgame, they need to hear from coastal states, including ours. I urge you to support of the Senate-proposed NOAA funding levels for the final NOAA budget, on the heels of the 7.9 magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami watch scare.

NOAA-funded initiatives critical to Washington state’s coastal communities include the:

· Tsunami Warning Center

· National Weather Service

· Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund

· Coastal Zone Management Program

· Coastal Resiliency Program

· Fisheries Science & Management

· Sea Grant

· Ocean Acidification Program

Coastal communities from Neah Bay to Long Beach to Puget Sound understand what is at stake: protecting ourselves from tsunamis and floods; informing fishermen of ocean conditions before they go out to sea; maintaining the health of fisheries; supporting tourism and other ocean-related jobs. It all relies on NOAA funding. The same is true in cities and towns all along the United States’ 12,000 miles of coastline.

Key McMurry, Pacific County Emergency Management CERT Lead, and Raymond resident

Mark Plackett, citizen representative for Gray Harbor Marine Resources Committee & Washington Coast Marine Advisory Council, Ocean Shores

Jess Helsley, executive director, Coast Salmon Partnership, Hoquiam