The ocean needs our help — now

Our two organizations, Blue Frontier and the Center for the Blue Economy, were among the first, in 2019, to highlight how our public seas must play a central role in national climate policy. The ocean, after all, is the planet’s major sequesterer of heat and carbon, as well as the source of vast quantities of carbon-free energy from winds, tides and currents. Coastal communities, from those of Native Alaskans to condo residents in south Florida, are on the frontlines for rising sea level impacts.

Back in spring 2019, when key Democrats outlined the Green New Deal, ocean issues were conspicuously absent, so we got to work building a broad, diverse national coalition of hundreds of stakeholders to develop an Ocean Climate Action Plan. The framework was completed in July 2020 and focused on ocean and coastal resources across various sectors of the economy, including offshore renewable energy. One of Joe Biden’s first acts as president was the signing of an executive order to expand offshore wind capabilities.


In a dozen opinion pieces and hundreds of Zoom meetings, we advocated for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, and coastal restoration of living shorelines plus the widely supported call for protecting 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

Smart blue investments like these can lead to a robust coastal economy, generating hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions in investment. They provide a wide range of environmental benefits, and improve people’s health and safety, all the while helping the United States meet its climate goals.

Congresswoman Deb Haaland of New Mexico (now the nation’s first Indigenous secretary of the interior) agreed with our goals, stating: “We all need to care about the ocean no matter where we live. … That’s why I’ve included elements of the Ocean Climate Action Plan into several of my own bills.”

In March, Biden announced his support for producing 30 gigawatts of stored energy by 2020, one of the elements of our plan. Many of our recommendations appeared in the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act that was introduced in Congress in the fall of 2020, with a revised version in the Democratic-controlled House in 2021. We were also pleased to see that many of the investments we advocated for were ultimately incorporated into the House version of the Build Back Better bill that passed in November; these included $6 billion for coastal restoration along with $4 billion for greening ports and shipping.

Unfortunately, the Democrats have no margin for error in the 50-50 Senate, and the stated refusal of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin to support the Senate version of the Build Back Better bill puts passage of these investments in jeopardy. But let’s be clear: A new version of the Build Back Better bill must pass if we are to protect our coastal population. We call on all Democrats and members of the Biden administration to take a deep breath and head back to the negotiating table with clear goals in sight. Manchin says he wants a few domestic spending programs that are funded for a full 10 years, instead of a larger number of proposals with differing end dates.

That’s acceptable. What is nonnegotiable are the climate policies needed for the U.S. to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets and rebuild our economy in a secure and just manner, from sea to shining sea.

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