In a year when everybody’s plans changed, ASBPA government affairs work both responded to the times – with a new focus on COVID response to help coastal communities – and stayed the same – with a continued focus on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) and appropriations. We did not expect significant coastal policy investment or reforms from Congress nor the Administration in this election year, and we did not get any. We have been successful on some minor points, but our larger interests and the fundamental threats to coastlines and coastal communities continue to grow. Here are some updates on coastal policy issues from 2020:
We continue to have outsize influence on the Water Resources Development Act and have been successful in getting some of our small but important priorities included. After being asked to testify twice in 2019, ASBPA was again asked to provide testimony in what became a written-testimony-only hearing in the Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee in April 2020. We have been pleased to see some of our main policy requests regarding regional sediment management, evaluating dredged sediments’ full value, and natural infrastructure included in WRDA. We have been quoted in Hill media supporting the legislation and encouraging Members of Congress to pass the bill. The final bill passed as part of the end-of-year omnibus legislation.
We continue to work on appropriations and pushed back against the Administration’s efforts to eliminate and defund coastal programs (Sea Grant, Coastal Zone Management Grants, Coastal Flood Risk Management). After multiple continuing resolutions that pushed a decision on FY21 appropriations to right before the New Year, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill that keeps coastal funding levels similar to FY20.
One issue we picked up this Spring was helping beach and coastal communities respond to the financial challenges of COVID. After polling our members in the Spring, followed by multiple calls with beach managers, we heard clearly that they needed our help in pushing for funding to support coastal projects and management threatened by the loss of local revenue. We developed letters and advocacy materials asking congress to fund multiple programs to help communities that were seeing coastal tourism revenues decline this summer. Senate Republicans, however, have been unwilling to consider funding for state and local governments who have had decimated budgets and we have not succeeded in getting help specifically for coastal communities.
Another focus for ASBPA this year was working to increase, and create new, dedicated revenue for coastal resilience, mainly from offshore energy development. The OFFSHORE Act was introduced (but not passed) in the Senate and House, which would establish a new source of dedicated revenue from offshore wind power. We have worked with the GOMESA coalition to seek an increase in coastal funding from offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. We have also seen the Living Shoreline Act – legislation that would authorize a new trust fund for competitive grants for living shorelines – passed in the House but stall in the Senate. We will continue to push these bills in 2021.
ASBPA developed two major policy papers in 2020. Early in the year, we released “Local Funding for Coastal Projects: An overview of practices, polices and considerations,” which is intended to help local communities assess their ability to finance coastal projects.
A second major project was a review and re-write of our joint policy paper with Coastal States Organization on beach and inlet management. This paper establishes a broad array of policy positions on five topics: better sediment management, improved coastal permitting, regular and predictable funding, responsible development, and research. This paper will be published in January and shared with the incoming administration to help shape their coastal planning and policy reform agenda.