2018 Progress Report
As anticipated, 2018 has been pretty much a three-alarm-fire-year, generated by an administration that stated their intentions to disrupt as they took their seats and set their sights through 2017. As no aspect of civil society was exempt from the disruption, maintaining focus on our ocean conservation remit was challenging, particularly in the face of mass shootings, evil treatment of refugees, ram-rodding judicial nominees into the Appellate and Supreme Court positions, and the general chaos of entitled men throwing their weight around at the pleasure of the extractive industries.
As we came into the New Year, the Department of Interior released their oil-field leasing plans for the entire Outer Continental Shelf while rolling back safety measures on offshore drilling operations; proposing the elimination of the Marine Mammal Commission and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, slashing funding for marine and climate science, along with some other more nuanced bashing of environmental protections.
While we submitted technical comments and opinion letters most of these proposals, the climate was ripe for regular (like weekly) planning and coordination meetings with our various ocean conservation colleagues. Some of these conference calls have been going on for years, but in this last year they have reached greater strategic depths. And while the Administration hasn’t been entirely successful in their plans to dismantle all environmental regulations, in a state of chaos all sorts of things can happen.
And we still haven’t seen how the Administration has synthesized any of our technical comments (along with millions of public expressions of concern) about their plans. This is worrying because there are quite a few environmental management proposals pending agency response: the jiggering with the National Environmental Policy Act, the muddling up of the Endangered Species Act, the evisceration of the Magnusson-Stevens Fisheries Management Act, the trimming back of Marine Monuments and Sanctuaries. With millions of comments, we are unsure about how our technical comments are segregated from the millions of sympathy comments from the larger public.
But with millions of people chiming in, it is encouraging to see such a level of public engagement – even while the administration is doing their best to interfere with meaningful policy engagement.
In one such engagement we rented a van and brought a passel of kids from “Heirs to our Ocean” up to Sacramento for a NOAA “Listening Session” on the Outer Continental Shelf leasing plan. These “Listening Sessions” are a recent concoction that has replaced the traditional “Town Hall Meetings” previously used to solicit public comments about policies and plans. These sessions are more like science fairs; the format makes it pretty hard to lodge a comment or even know what other attendees are thinking about any given proposal.
This wasn’t stopping the public from expressing themselves – even as inconvenient as it was to reach Sacramento for a broad public concerned with ocean conservation; as there were probably 1000 folks marching in the streets dressed as dolphins, whales, polar bears, and sea turtles. The local governments and states are getting the message. Coastal cities, Chambers of Commerce, and businesses around the coastal perimeter of the United States are signing petitions and passing resolutions objecting to being shoved around by the fossil fuel industry; and coastal states are passing laws restricting the development of infrastructure and landing facilities for fossil fuel.
“Hopeful” might not be the best word to bandy about in these dire times, but I am not discouraged. There are a lot of things in play, and while the inimical forces seem formidable, I have seen these guys shoot themselves in the foot nine-times-out-of-ten. And while the MAGA Reality Show continues to unfurl, in June, OCR Communications Director Daniela Huson and I went to Washington DC to inform policymakers about the opportunities and challenges in our particular field (ocean noise pollution and offshore oil are intimately entangled). I’m pleased to report that we have some great allies on The Hill – and that was before this recent election!
In September I was invited to give a keynote address to the United Nations International Maritime Organization at a meeting held in the Republic of Georgia. Many of the attendees from the Black Sea States expressed concern that they could no longer hide behind the skirts of the US in these unpredictable times
(viz-a-viz Russia); but the larger conversation was about crafting international cooperation around marine conservation priorities.
Our work is also being facilitated by a fabulous crew: Daniela is cruising through her first year with us and is making some solid progress in getting our message out. We’ve had enormous technical help from Jason Roberts who manages the online architecture of an increasingly more complex operation, and John Turville has been keeping our SalesForce CRM from getting tangled up.
We’ve had two interns – Paulina Salgado and Chris Chin, both students in the beginning of their science education sorting out the many hundreds of scientific papers we use, and organizing them into an orderly database. (This provides us the added benefit of familiarizing these young students with the literature we use to substantiate our policy comments – with the aim to recruit them into our field). And recently Peggy Bartlett has volunteered to review and update our funding prospects in SalesForce.
We are still shopping our Farallones Hydrophone Array proposal to monitor the behavior of the blue and fin whales in the approaches to San Francisco Bay. There is a lot of interest, but the first big check has yet to be written.
Of course none of this could happen without your ongoing support – for which we are deeply grateful. Can we count on you joining us again this year in underwriting our efforts through these challenging times?