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Ocean and Coastal Recreation Advocates Ascend Upon Capitol Hill

It was a cold and snowy morning in Portland as I met up with Surfrider's National Youth Program Manager Ryan Cruse and two stellar leaders from our Oregon network, Sarah Mayer and Briana Bard, at the PDX airport. We were taking flight to Washington DC, to join up with over 100 other Surfrider and ocean recreational industry advocates from across our national network for our annual Coastal Recreation Hill Day to ask our nation's leaders to protect our coast and oceans.  As we flew into DC along the Anacostia River, observing the chocolate-colored waters from the 747's window seat was a stark contrast to the wild and scenic rivers we ascended over departing Oregon a few hours earlier...and a reminder of what we were here, in the "City of Magnificent Intentions", to protect.

Our iconic Oregon coast...worthy of our advocacy

It was a busy two days at the capitol filled with meetings, trainings, and social gatherings for ourselves and our advocates. Our Oregon team met with US Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley's offices as well as Representatives Bonamici, Defazio, and Schrader. Being that the Surfrider Foundation is the nation’s largest grassroots organization representing ocean and coastal recreation users, this team was the voice of Oregon’s cold water coast! Joining our collective networked that rocked DC for 2 days, we were pumped to be part of over 125 meetings with congressional leaders and staff from Department of Interior, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and White House officials. This post is a rundown on what went down in our Oregon meetings - surf here to check out a more comprehensive list of Surfrider Foundation's Federal Priorities.

Stop New Offshore Oil Drilling

In Oregon, we've been busy at work protecting our nearshore waters with  Senate Bill (SB) 256, which would prohibit oil and gas drilling in Oregon’s nearshore as well as extend protections against threats of drilling in adjacent federal ("offshore") waters. While Oregon has some legislative and rule-making control over our nearshore (0-3 miles) waters, ocean waters further offshore, and energy projects like oil/gas drilling, are really controlled by the federal government. When the federal administration proposed opening up 90% of these federal waters to oil and gas drilling around the nation, including Oregon, we had to reach DC with our message and take our issue up on Capitol Hill. Fortunately, Oregon Congressional delegates have been outspoken in opposition - so for this issue, it was mostly a time to say "thanks for your support". We presented them with our traveling surfboard - signed by hundreds of coastal businesses up and down the west coast. Unfortunately, not every state had as easy of a time with the topic of offshore drilling as we did. It's important to remember that all the oceans are connected, and offshore drilling is still a major threat for our U.S. coasts.  Learn more and take action!

Protect Clean Water and Public Health

Federal leadership and funding is necessary to properly monitor clean water and there has been talk once again of cutbacks to EPAs budget and rollbacks on rules. Our main priority in clean water issues is continued funding for programs like the BEACH Act Grants Program. This program funds recreational water quality monitoring at our ocean beaches to protect the public's health. The Oregon Health Authority currently receives an austerity budget of about $220K per year to run the state's official Beach Monitoring Program. This only allows monitoring water quality from Memorial Day to Labor Day, completely missing Oregon's rainy months when surfers and beachgoers are most vulnerable to poor water quality conditions. That's why we and other Oregon chapters have our Blue Water Task Force monitoring program - implementing 7 volunteer run labs dedicated to monitoring water quality year round at our favorite beaches. Increased funding would allow our state to fund a year round monitoring program, rather than us volunteers having to monitor for ourselves! Learn more and take action!

PDX Volunteers pose with our oceans campaign flag in front of Wyden's office

Ocean Protection and Management

Healthy ocean ecosystems provide enormous benefits to our nation’s economy and sustain a way of life enjoyed by millions of Americans. Oregonians are no different, with over $1.9 Billion in GDP in our state annually from our oceans and coasts, it's critical we protect these assets. Now more than ever our federal leaders must support NOAA funding and regional ocean partnerships and defend marine sanctuaries and national monuments under review by the Trump administration. Many of the budgets of these programs have once again been slashed and, as usual, we're there to help ensure our Congressional leaders understand the value and importance of these programs - here are a few broad strokes of our asks:

➔ Support : Funding for NOAA ocean and coastal management programs in FY 2020 budget - Take Action!

➔ Oppose : Legislative and administrative attacks on marine monuments, national marine sanctuaries, and the Antiquities Act.

➔ Support : Funding support for regional ocean partnerships and ocean planning.

Surfrider's CEO Chad Nelsen walking the Capital Mall like a boss

Promote Coastal Resilience

U.S. coastlines and coastal communities are becoming increasingly threatened and damaged by sea level rise, coastal erosion, and inappropriate development. Federal policy reform is needed to discourage coastal armoring and protect natural shorelines through restoration, managed retreat, coastal planning, and the use of living shorelines. Oregon is severely suffering in this department with rising storm activity, greater magnitude of storm events and increased associated wave heights each season. El Nino's can exacerbate coastal erosion and the responses from homeowners and local decision makers can be short-sighted. In a state that prides itself on public beaches with a wild and rugged coastline, it's critical we defend this "birthright" of Oregonians with sound policy decisions. Below are a few of the broad strokes at the federal level we're working on, while here at the state level we're continuing our proactive policy efforts with our Long Live Oregon Beaches Campaign as well pushing back on reactive policy reform, such as the recently introduced Senate Bill 961.

➔ Support : Amendments to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that promote natural adaptation measures, discourage building in flood zones, and update flood maps. Take Action

➔ Support : Permanent reauthorization and funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund - WHOOT, this happened the week before we arrived!

➔ Support : The Green New Deal (HR.109, S.59) to transition to renewable energy, halt fossil fuel leasing and extraction, end fossil fuel energy subsidies, and ensure an equitable transition led by impacted communities and workers - Take Action

Plastic Pollution

While there are no current bills at the federal level specifically addressing this issue, this summer there are plans to re-introduce the Reducing Waste in National Parks Act, an effort to reduce single-use plastic bottle pollution in National Parks. All of our Oregon delegates were extremely favorable and will be looking to support Rep. Quigley this summer when the legislation is introduced.  It was also emphasized that Surfrider would support future legislation that aims to reduce the source of plastic pollution, but we were highly skeptical of industry-promoted recycling initiatives. We were encouraged by our delegates to continue our focus on plastic reduction legislation at the local level. Currently, Surfrider in Oregon is focusing on three major plastic source reduction issues, both through local and statewide campaigns focusing on; single-use plastic bags, polystyrene, and request only straws. At the state level, HB 2509 to  eliminate plastic bags is tracking best at the moment through our Sustainable Shopping Campaign. Learn more and take action!