Our oceans and coasts are sources of great economic and environmental wealth for the nation. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. import and export freight is transported through seaports. Our 3.4 million square mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the largest in the world, covers an area greater than the entire United States.
The Blue Economy – jobs and economic opportunities that emerge from our oceans, Great Lakes, and coastal resources – generates more than 50 percent of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product and provides over 70 million jobs to Americans. Simply put, the economic health of America is undeniably linked to the riches of our oceans and coasts.
Today’s witnesses have compelling stories to tell us about the Blue Economy and its importance. From food to fuel, we rely on oceans for goods and services that drive the economy. America is on the cusp of major developments that could produce new “blue” jobs in renewable ocean energy development, aquaculture, marine drugs and products, and ocean exploration – I look forward to hearing from each individual here.
Before we begin, I want to take a moment to highlight what is, in my view, the most prominent threat to our Blue Economy – climate change. Climate change is acidifying the waters, warming oceans, and creating giant dead zones – jeopardizing the $111 billion commercial seafood industry and the promising development of new products from our oceans. Sea-level rise is threatening coastal communities and the maritime industries that provide millions of jobs.
There are key steps that we must take now to sustain and grow our nation’s blue economy.
We must strengthen the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It is my strong hope that the Administration will commit to doubling the budget of NOAA by 2012. Currently, NOAA operates through more than 200 separate authorizations creating overlaps and disconnects among different parts of the agency. The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy recommended that Congress establish an organic act for NOAA to codify its mission. I support this goal and look forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration to enact legislation establishing NOAA.
We also must look for new and innovative ways to plan for uses of our oceans and coasts that supports economic growth, protects ecological services and unique marine areas, and reduces conflicts among users.
Balancing use and protection of marine resources for current and future generations requires strong science-based management of our oceans and coasts, interagency coordination, and federal-state-local partnerships.
For this reason, I sent a letter to President Obama urging the Administration working through the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Council of Environmental Quality, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop a comprehensive science-based federal marine planning framework to guide decisions on ocean use and conservation and to promote ecosystem-based management.
In closing I want to state very clearly – for those who live on our coasts and those who do not, like my state – we must all be a part of the effort to improve the health and well-being of our oceans. America’s economic growth and the livelihood of so many workers depend on the decisions we make now. What is good for the health of our coastal communities and oceans is good for the nation.