Regardless of the ultimate success of her run for president, we can credit Elizabeth Warren with one thing: introducing a host of important environmental issues to the 2020 campaign. Her latest? Oceans policy. Warren has a plan for fixing what ails coastal communities, the commercial fishing industry, and even offshore power generation.
The near-5,000 word proposal is intended to comprehensively address a host of issues currently faced by the world’s oceans, heading off the worst impacts of climate change and mass pollution on them, while fixing several problems that currently prevent industries like offshore wind and commercial fishing from providing tens of thousands of new jobs for American workers. Dubbed the Blue New Deal, it attempts to provide a roadmap toward a sustainable future full of healthy oceans, fresh seafood, and profitable enterprise.
“Our safety, public health, food security, and infrastructure are at risk,” writes Warren in her opening statement. “If we do not act now, things will only get worse, as climate change leads to more severe weather.”
She goes on to identify depleted fish stocks, warming seas, coral bleaching, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and runaway pollution as the main threats facing our seas.
Why should we care about that? Warren details the reasons, along with proposals for fixing what’s wrong. “Oceans already support millions of jobs, underpin our food system and contribute $304 billion to our national GDP,” the Senator from Massachusetts writes. “They also have the potential to be one of our strongest tools in the fight against climate change.”
Her previously announced Green Manufacturing Plan and Green Apollo Program call for a $2 trillion investment in clean energy infrastructure, and $400 billion for clean energy R&D. Both include proposed investments in offshore wind farms, which Warren says could lead to 36,000 “good union jobs,” in that industry. Additionally, she wants to streamline the permitting process for those sites, and remove laws that allow coastal communities to object to nearby wind farms on purely aesthetic grounds.
“The climate crisis is too urgent to let the ultra-wealthy complain about wind turbines getting in the way of their ocean views,” writes Warren. She also wants to invest in research around wave energy and protect tax credits that support clean energy development.
“Threats like warming oceans and overfishing have caused the ocean’s fish population to fall by 50 percent over the last 50 years, leading to cascading ecological consequences, hurting regional and local economies, and risking hunger and even conflict,” Warren continues. She claims that replenishing these stocks could support up to 500,000 new jobs, and $31 billion in sales.
Part of Warren’s proposal there is to end the practice of shipping fish caught in American water to Asia for processing, before it is shipped back to American fish markets. One in four fish currently consumed here goes through that wasteful process. The Senator wants to spend $5 billion investing in processing centers, distribution hubs, and fish markets local to areas where the fish are caught.
Warren also mentions the important economic benefit the outdoor recreation and fishing industries derive from the Great Lakes, and says she’ll work to fully fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to protect that area.
She proposes developing algae and seaweed farms, both as a carbon sink, and as a sustainable food source.
Warren also wants to address pollution and waste created by the shipping industry. “If global shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest polluter in the world,” she explains.
She proposes tightening emissions standards for American ships and mandating that any foreign vessels that want to use our ports must meet those standards, too. Also on the list: removing fossil fuels within the infrastructure of those ports, transitioning port equipment to electric power.
Perhaps most drastically, the proposal includes a provision to end offshore drilling entirely. She says she’ll achieve that by reinstating a variety of Obama-era protections for the continental shelf and oil rig worker safety. Warren also says she’ll reassess the royalty rate paid by offshore drilling leases, “to more accurately account for the social cost of carbon.”
Warren writes that she can achieve the gradual phase out of all offshore drilling without costing jobs or harming the economy by transitioning that industry’s supply chain and infrastructure to building offshore wind farms. “A Warren administration will provide job training and guaranteed wage and benefit parity for workers who choose to transition into new industries,” she writes.
Warren wants to tackle the problem of plastics pollution by starting upstream and restricting the manufacture of single-use items like plastic bags, then working downstream to establish better markets for recycled goods. Likewise, she says she’ll tackle the problem of fertilizer and pesticide runoff-caused algae blooms by restricting the use of those products in industrial agriculture and reinstating President Obama’s Clean Water Rule.
But Warren also acknowledges that some of the impacts of climate change are now certain, including at least one foot of sea level rise by mid-century. To get proactive on that, the Senator proposes a program of managed retreat, halting the construction of any federal projects within five feet of current sea levels, including public housing projects, and buying back houses from low income communities threatened by rising seas.
“Our oceans can underpin a sustainable food system, be a source of renewable energy, and defend against the worst of climate change,” Warren concludes. “The future of our planet depends on a healthy ocean, and we have no more time to waste.”