At the very end of the legislative session, on the very last day, Oregon took a big step in the fight against the impacts of ocean acidification and hypoxia. Oregon’s Legislative Assembly passed a bill called SB 1039, relating to ocean chemistry. This bill declares state policy on ocean acidification and hypoxia and forms a 13 member council, the Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia. Why are either of those things important?
First, setting state policy demonstrates to the public, neighboring states and the world that OAH is affecting Oregon, that Oregon is a leader in research and monitoring on OAH, and that Oregon is taking the impacts of OAH seriously. Now, to be fair, Oregon has arguably been demonstrating some of these already by participating in regional collaborations to address OAH like the West Coast OAH Science Panel, the International OA Alliance, and the OAH Monitoring Task Force with Federal agencies. Regional collaboration is valuable, but Oregon’s marine resources and coastal communities face specific local impacts of OAH too. Acknowledging that the impacts of OAH are especially profound in Oregon and threatens Oregon’s resources and communities is critical to work towards finding solutions to mitigate and adapt to OAH.
So, how will this bill actually help address OAH in Oregon? Big thorny problems are daunting. No one change in policy or program will solve them. There are pros and cons to almost all ideas to address big problems. Limited funding, capacity and will needs to be focused on the ideas that stand the most chance to make the biggest difference while minimizing the costs. The Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification (OA Council) hopes to do just that. By formally gathering representatives from state agencies, academia, fishing and shellfish industries, Native American tribes, and other thinkers and charging them with coordinating the Oregon’s response to the impacts of OAH, Oregon hopes to effectively address OAH in a way that works for Oregon.
The OA Council is charged with identifying research and monitoring priorities to better understand OAH, and recommending priority actions the state could take to address OAH. Maybe those actions include active mitigation, increasing monitoring and research capacity, identifying socioeconomic impacts of OAH, increasing public awareness of OAH or leveraging local work on OAH in coordination with regional and even international efforts. Other states, such as Maine, Maryland, and Washington have taken a similar approach to addressing OAH, forming multi-stakeholder panels to coordinate state action.
Addressing ocean acidification could be contentious because it may involve prioritizing some uses of the ocean over others. For instance, protecting or restoring eel grass beds has been proposed by scientists as a way to help mitigate acidic ocean conditions, at least near the eel grass. Eel grass could help oysters thrive, but can make it harder to harvest the oysters. One method to harvest oysters involves dredging the sediment to collect the oysters, but dredging disrupts eel grass, at least temporarily. So, how to design a program of restoring eel grass to protect the shellfish industry without displacing the very industry we are trying to help? Having extensive stakeholder involvement from the very beginning is the best way to find solutions and broker compromises that can actually be implemented.
My role in the Governor’s office was to support the drafting the language and making sure interested parties were aware of developments as the legislature considered the bill. Much of the work coming up with a concept for the bill happened before I joined the Governor’s office, but I still felt a sense of ownership watching the bill work its way from introduction, through amendments, through Senate and House committees and finally seeing it get passed.
My time in the Governor’s office has now ended and I’ve been reflecting on what I accomplished during my year as a Natural Resources Policy Fellow. I found working on policies to combat the effects of climate change on the ocean was the most compelling and interesting part of my work. The OA Council stands out to me as a concrete step forward to address ocean acidification, one of the repercussions of climate change that is already affecting Oregon’s waters.