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Good news for coast in climate plan

By Staff | Oct 22, 2014

To the editor:

There’s a lot for coastal communities to like in the recently announced Climate Action Plan not necessarily for what it does about the climate, but for what it offers to support the coast.

The plan a combination of executive actions and public-private commitments announced Oct. 8 focuses on climate change and its impact on America’s communities and its natural resources. That alone should pique the interest of coastal advocates, who should embrace any action that could slow or reverse the trend of sea level rise that will be having an impact on their communities first.

But the plan’s spotlight on increasing resilience, assessing coastal vulnerabilities and working to avert coastal disasters rather than responding to them is welcome news even if in some instances what will be offered is at best a first step:

  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has screened its coastal projects for vulnerability (www.corpsclimate.us/ccacesl.cfm), to find that a third of them will be impacted by climate change. A full report will be released in December, and this screening will serve both as a model for other agencies and a roadmap for future Corps action.
  • A collection of public and private entities are starting to come together to support restoration of “soft” coastal protection efforts such as coastal salt marshes and land purchase or easements, an effort this plan endorses and rightly so, since such efforts not only protect the coast and its residents, but also provide vital habitat and estuaries crucial to coastal wildlife.

Of course, this plan embraces many other non-coastal concerns and efforts coalescing around the challenges of climate change, offering a diverse and fairly comprehensive collection of ideas and initiatives. This wide net is essential to achieving any traction, and the range of responses underscores both the breadth of the problem and the reality that answers will not come through big ideas but through small, targeted efforts on a very local level that together can add up to a major new direction.

Still, local efforts often need the support of a larger policy. While the president’s plan is welcome, the absence of a broader federal policy is disappointing. Executive action is better than nothing, so this plan should be supported for what it tries to do within the limited scope of executive authority. Long-term systemic change comes through Congress, which unfortunately has been lacking in the leadership or direction to take on this very vital role.

Also lacking is the federal funding to make these local projects possible. The president’s plan rightly acknowledges that every level from the local to the federal, the private to the public must be part of the funding equation to make local projects into reality. But local funding is often inconsistent, more susceptible to the economic energies of boom and bust and private money often counts on that public match both to attract it and to multiply its impact.

So a reliable and targeted pool of federal funds can provide the synergy that will make local projects such as the ones spotlighted here possible and should be on the federal agenda even if climate change is relegated to a lesser position, thanks to the importance of America’s coasts to the national economy, the federal treasury and the entire population. It is worth spending millions to protect something that generates billions. Again, that often takes Congressional action, which has been missing of late in Washington.

Still, the Climate Action Plan is a worthy effort, and worth the attention of coastal advocates around the country. The support for a variety of coastal response to climate change is wise, and the spotlight on local responses as a first best line of defense is welcomed. Anything that can shift the focus to put readiness and resilience over response and recovery should win the applause and appreciation of coastal advocates everywhere.

The full Climate Action Plan report is available at www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/enhancing_climate_resilience_of_americas_natural_resources.pdf

Ken Gooderham

Captiva