Elizabeth Warren unveils Blue New Deal to end offshore drilling, protect marine ecosystems

Karl Schneider, Naples Daily News

Efforts to end offshore drilling, restore marine ecosystems and expand protected areas are among initiatives Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren unveiled Tuesday.

The efforts are part of her Blue New Deal aimed at protecting the oceans from the dangers of climate change.

"The world's oceans are in crisis," Warren wrote in a news release. "As we pursue climate justice, we must not lose sight of the 71% of our planet covered by the ocean."

Warren wrote that environmental and economic justice are tied together and she will make climate change a priority of her administration should she be elected president.

"Any Green New Deal must include a Blue New Deal as an essential part in order to fully fight climate change, protect our health and create good, high-wage union jobs in the process," she wrote. The Green New Deal is a proposal sponsored in the House by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to address climate change.

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. participates in the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate in Atlanta.

Warren's plan specifically calls out Florida's mangrove system and the important role the salt-tolerant trees play in protecting the coastline. Mangroves have been destroyed by urban coastal development, she wrote, and rising sea levels and strong storms continue to get worse. 

More: Florida Keys' coral reefs targeted for restoration under ambitious multi-agency project

Read: Massive Everglades restoration project in Picayune Strand more than two thirds complete

The Blue New Deal will fully fund the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation program. 

"The whole concept is on point, because mangroves and other natural ecosystems are the first line of defense against storm and storm surge," said Ana Pushkin-Chevlin, regional director of Growing Climate Solutions, which is a Southwest Florida initiative.

"It’s not just mangroves," she said, "there are other natural defensive systems. The whole trajectory from underwater to the dune line. Each of those does something in the protection of the shoreline."

All these marine ecosystems play a different part in buffering the mainland and humans from storm surge, from coral reefs that create the first friction of wave action to the dune line. 

Part of the Blue New Deal will be to create an expansion of marine protected areas. These areas are meant to protect pockets of the ocean from human activities such as fishing, drilling and pollution.

"I will direct NOAA to engage in robust stakeholder engagement processes to establish more marine protected areas," Warren wrote, "with the goal of increasing protection of all types of marine habitats."

The hope of expanding the marine protected areas is to rebuild fish populations, but there is some evidence this doesn't work except in small, localized areas.

"Closed areas really don’t have much benefit to (fish) populations because they migrate and the area is small," said Douglas Gregory, emeritus extension agent with University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

"(Protected areas) are one tool in a tool box," he said. "There are closed (fishing) seasons and areas, size limits and bag limits and other measures for commercial fishing."

A true marine protected area would stop all impacts, including runoff from local cities and industries, he said.

Warren's Blue New Deal would also end offshore drilling.

"I will direct federal ocean and coastal management agencies to being planning to phase out all offshore drilling," she wrote. "Instead, we will focus on transitioning the offshore drilling supply chain and associated industry to offshore wind."

The plan would roll back the Trump administration's reduction to shallow-water royalty rates for existing offshore drilling leases.

"No offshore rigs are completely benign to the ocean," Pushkin-Chevlin said. "Nascent (clean energy) technologies need to be vetted and commercialized. Putting resources in that will give us the next breakthrough."

Warren's plan will call for all offshore wind farms to be made from American iron, steel and cement, her news release said. 

Karl Schneider is an environment reporter at Naples Daily News. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @karlstartswithk, email him at kschneider@gannett.com

This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Election 2020: Elizabeth Warren Blue New Deal to end offshore drilling