The climate crisis is hurting our oceans and the people who rely on them. To help reverse this damage and prepare for what’s ahead, the U.S. House of Representatives this week passed a package of legislation originally heard in the Natural Resources Committee called the Coastal and Great Lakes Communities Enhancement Act (H.R. 729). In this edition of our climate solutions series, we’ll explain how this package will help coastal communities fight the climate crisis.
Climate change has put many of our coastal and Great Lakes communities in the path of more severe storms and weather changes. It’s rapidly degrading habitats and shrinking wildlife populations. From sea level rise and chronic flooding to eroding shorelines, these communities know that climate change is a problem today, not tomorrow. More than 40 percent of Americans live in coastal counties, and this number is increasing.
That’s why we passed legislation to give these communities the resources they need to prepare for and respond to changing coastal conditions.
After holding a series of hearings on climate change, coastal resilience, and wildlife and ocean legislation, the Committee advanced a series of sensible, bipartisan legislative solutions that enhance and protect coastal communities, including indigenous communities that are already gravely at risk. We included these bills into the package the House just passed. These much-needed bipartisan solutions are supported by lawmakers across the political spectrum. This is just a next step. We’re committed to working on more compressive climate solutions to save the ocean from climate change.
Here’s a closer look at what the Coastal and Great Lakes Communities Enhancement Act will accomplish.
This section, from Rep. Frank Pallone’s (D-N.J.) H.R. 3115, will authorize $50 million for a grant program to design, implement, and monitor climate-resilient “living shoreline” projects intended to protect coastal communities and ecosystems from climate impacts. Living shoreline projects restore or stabilize shorelines by using natural materials and systems, such as oyster reefs, salt marshes, and seagrass beds to lessen the impacts of natural hazards or minimize shoreline erosion.
Several sections of H.R. 729 make important updates to the Coastal Zone Management Act, which helps states and local communities address climate impacts and preserves access to key coastal areas in the face of rising seas and other climate threats. The Coastal Zone Management Act allows for voluntary partnerships between the federal government and coastal states and territories to help develop coastal management programs that balance competing coastal uses and protect the nation’s coasts.
Working waterfronts are waterfront property, infrastructure and waterways that provide access to coastal waters for people in commercial and recreational fishing businesses, boatbuilding, aquaculture or other water-dependent activities. Working waterfronts are essential for fishing, shipping, and coastal tourism industries. Despite their economic value, working waterfronts are facing numerous threats, including pressure from competing land use plans, aging infrastructure, changing regulations, coastal hazards, and environmental impacts from climate change. Based on Rep. Chellie Pingree’s (D-Maine.) H.R. 3596, this section would amend the Coastal Zone Management Act to establish a working waterfront grant program to preserve and protect coastal access for water-dependent commercial activities.
This section, based on Rep. Salud Carbajal’s (D-Calif.) H.R. 3541, designates funds specifically to be used for climate preparedness planning under the Coastal Zone Management Act. This creates a new part of the law to provide technical and financial assistance for climate adaptation preparedness and response. Comprehensive adaptation plans through the Coastal Zone Management Act will help states better understand the scope of the threat, identify state-wide costs, and develop local strategies to ensure safety for their residents.
Indigenous communities are some of the most vulnerable to climate change. This section, based on Rep. Derek Kilmer’s (D-Wash.) H.R. 729, adds new language to the Coastal Zone Management Act that authorizes a competitive grant program specifically for Indian Tribes. Grants would help Tribes develop and implement projects to protect, restore, and preserve areas of the coastal zone that hold important ecological, cultural, and sacred significance, or traditional, historic, and aesthetic values essential to a Tribe; prepare and implement coastal area management plans; or implement a coastal or shoreline stabilization measure for the purpose of public safety, public access, or cultural or historical preservation. This section modifies existing state grants so that they may also be used to fulfill these objectives.
Despite being located right along the tidal Potomac River, the District of Columbia is not eligible for Coastal Zone Management Act grant funding. This section, based on Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (D-D.C.) H.R. 2185, amends the Coastal Zone Management Act to allow the District of Columbia to develop and implement a coastal zone management program and be eligible for Coastal Zone Management Act grant funding. Tidal floods ignore political and state boundaries, and this provision will correct a gap that allows one side of the Potomac (the state of Virginia) to implement coastal zone management plans but not the other.
As the climate warms and humans’ impact on the environment becomes more profound, fish stocks are facing greater challenges than ever, including shifting ranges, degraded habitat, and invasive species. H.R. 729 addresses the needs of America’s fisheries by authorizing the National Fish Habitat Partnership and Great Lakes fisheries research.
Natural freshwater, estuarine, and marine habitats are essential to the survival of fish in the United States–including rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, coasts, and reefs. Yet these habitats have been destroyed, fragmented, and degraded by human settlement and the competing use of space for agriculture, transportation, infrastructure, energy and mineral resource extraction, and other industrial development.
While there is inherent value in healthy and diverse ecosystems, healthy fish habitats also support $46.1 billion in recreational fishing-related consumer spending, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). A report commissioned by the American Sportfishing Association estimates that this spending has a $125 billion impact on the U.S. economy and provides more than 800,000 jobs across the United States.
This section of H.R. 729, based on Rep. Rob Wittman’s (R-Va.) H.R. 1747, codifies the National Fish Habitat Partnership. Since its inception in 2006, the Partnership has participated in 840 habitat conservation projects in all 50 states with a direct economic impact exceeding $150 million.
This section authorizes the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to conduct science and research activities to support fishery management decisions in the Great Lakes. Funds authorized by this section, based on Rep. Mike Quigley’s (D-Ill.) H.R. 1023, will be used to restore basic fishery science capabilities, develop invasive species controls and restore native species, and implement advanced technologies to augment information gathered from traditional manned vessel surveys — including hydroacoustic technology, acoustic telemetry, technologically advanced stock assessment strategies, and technical support — to manage large amounts of data.
When President Nixon’s Reorganization Plan in 1970 transferred marine fisheries functions from the Department of Interior to the Department of Commerce, Great Lakes fishery research activities were specifically excluded from this transfer. As the only scientific research bureau within DOI, the USGS has performed these functions without a direct legislative authority, resulting in piecemeal funding for the USGS Great Lakes Science Center. This bill provides a clear statutory authorization.
Responsible Great Lakes fisheries management is a trust responsibility owed to sovereign Indian tribes who hold harvest rights on ceded lands.
In the face of a changing global climate, data and monitoring are critical to our understanding of the coastal zone. Through the Digital Coast Partnership and the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System, H.R. 729 helps coastal managers adapt to new coastal and Great Lakes conditions.
This section is based on Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger’s (D-Md.) H.R. 2189, which authorizes NOAA’s Digital Coast Partnership, a web-based collection of data, tools, and training resources designed to support coastal managers. This includes economic data, satellite imagery, visualization tools, and predictive tools from hundreds of sources across academia, non-governmental, federal, state, tribal, and county partners that help coastal communities better prepare for storms, flooding, and sea level rise, and strengthen coastal economic development planning efforts. The Digital Coast Partnership also supports events such as conferences, webinars, workshops and meetings to help coastal managers collaborate on coastal resilience, ocean planning, and protecting coastal habitats. As a critical component of the Coastal Zone Management program, NOAA estimates that Digital Coast currently produces has a three-to-one benefit-cost ratio and predicts that under H.R. 729, this would increase to better than five-to-one by Fiscal Year 2028.
This section, based on Rep. Don Young’s (R-Alaska) H.R. 1314, reauthorizes the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act of 2009 (ICOOS). ICOOS authorizes the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), a national-regional partnership implemented by NOAA that provides important data to improve safety, enhance the economy, and protect the environment. IOOS is a coordinated network of people and technology, consisting of 17 federal partners and 11 regional associations, that generate and disseminate continuous data models and services on coastal waters, including oceans in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, and the Great Lakes.
These data, collected through buoys, water level gauges, and high-frequency radar, consist of standardized information on environmental variables such as temperature, salinity, currents, nutrient concentrations, and contaminant levels, as well as other critical ecological factors. IOOS supports programs to transition marine sensors and research models to operations, an animal telemetry network to track aquatic species’ movement and behavior, and oceanographic metadata record datasets.
To confront changing ocean conditions, we need a strong marine and coastal science and policy workforce. The National Sea Grant College Program offers a competitive fellowship for scientists to learn about policymaking. This section is based on Rep. Jared Huffman’s (D-Calif.) H.R.2405, that updates the National Sea Grant College Program to promote diversity and inclusion, to provide additional direction for fellowship placement, and to provide new authority for direct hire of fellows.
Members of Congress from across the country were excited about this ocean climate package and offered dozens of amendments addressing the urgent needs in their own coastal communities. The amendments that passed included provisions to increase harmful algal bloom research, ensure that corals are eligible as living shoreline projects, direct the Fish and Wildlife Service to research the effects of PFAS and other contaminants to ecosystems, and to direct NOAA to consider the potential of living shorelines to support the resiliency of military communities. And luckily, both sides of the aisle voted down an amendment that would have weakened the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Now more than ever, coastal and Great Lakes communities need big ideas to enhance resiliency. The Natural Resources Committee is proud to deliver this package of solutions for more than 40 percent of Americans who live in coastal counties.
We hope you’ll join us as we continue taking #OceanClimateAction.