Area Environmental Groups Fear Possible Federal Budget Cuts

By JULIET KASZAS-HOCH | Apr 19, 2017
Courtesy of: Lisa Auermuller JCNERR Coastal Education Center

Last month members of the Barnegat Bay Partnership met for the nonprofit’s ninth annual Education and Outreach Retreat, “Telling the Story of Barnegat Bay,” at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences in Loveladies. Angela Andersen, BBP Communication and Education Committee chairwoman, said the retreat was a great success, with the day’s theme conveyed “verbally, visually, physically and digitally.” The event, though, was also tinged with unease, as BBP Director L. Stanton Hales announced to attendees that funding for the National Estuary Program – of which the BBP is part – could be cut from the federal budget.

“The President’s current ‘skinny budget’ includes massive proposed cuts to some federal agencies, especially (the) Environmental Protection Agency, and complete elimination of many environmental programs,” Hales wrote in a letter to BBP committee members and other invested parties.

“While the National Estuary Program was not singled out by name, the proposed budget ‘eliminates funding for specific regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay, and other geographic programs.’ The Barnegat Bay Partnership, one of 28 NEPs established by EPA’s Clean Water Act, is a geographic program in EPA’s budget,” Hales explained. “Thus, the BBP might have to close its doors next year, despite the fact that the NEP was reauthorized last summer with unanimous, bipartisan support in Congress.”

The BBP is not alone. According to Lisa Auermuller, assistant manager of the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve, “In the current version of the president’s FY ’18 budget, the NERRS (National Estuarine Research Reserve System) is 100 percent zeroed out, meaning fully cut.

“The JCNERR is funded operationally through the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the National Ocean Service,” she pointed out. “We are one in a system of 29 reserves around the country who are nationally managed and funded by NOAA, but locally managed by state agencies. Our state agency is Rutgers University.

“This is somewhat similar to the BBP, which is also in a system of national estuary programs, but they are funded by the EPA and managed locally by Ocean County College. For both the BBP and the JCNERR, we benefit from being connected to issues of national importance, but locally relevant to the needs of our local audiences. It is a win-win.”

In addition to the operational grant from NOAA, the reserve pursues supplemental grant money. “Many of these grants are also in the form of federal funds,” said Auermueller, “so some of our outside grant opportunities may be at risk for reduced budgets as well.”

New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, too, could see its funding completely jettisoned, or it could see a significant cut to funding “that would effectively terminate Sea Grant at the state and national level,” said Peter Rowe, associate director for grant administration, and director of research and extension, for the group.

Rowe mentioned a number of other nearby organizations – including the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary and the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program– that would be affected as well.

“We really won’t know what will happen until April 28,” when a temporary federal funding bill expires, remarked Rowe, who said he and other Sea Grant staff are trying to remain “cautiously optimistic.”

Lawrence Hajna, press officer for the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, responded to a question about concern for possible budget cuts with a previous statement from Brian Murray, spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie. The statement reads, “As the Governor has previously noted, the federal spending proposal is not a final budget. This is the beginning of a lengthy annual process in which every state will participate through its appointed and elected representatives. As the process continues, the Governor’s office will work with New Jersey’s state and federal representatives in reaffirming the State’s priorities.”

While the current proposal isn’t the final budget, area green groups are nonetheless concerned, about both a potential loss of jobs and the loss of many vital research, conservation and environmental education programs.

The BBP – which discussed, among other topics, native plants, dunes, terrapins and citizen science at its recent retreat – works together with the communities of the Barnegat Bay watershed to help restore, protect and enhance the natural resources of the ecosystem.

“The BBP has brought together the bay’s stakeholders to give them a voice and shared responsibility for the decision-making regarding the protection of the bay,” said Hales. “The BBP and its partners – including NJDEP, U.S. Geological Survey, and Rutgers and Stockton universities – have conducted and supported research to improve our understanding of the bay’s eutrophication, critical habitats (wetlands, submerged aquatic vegetation) and fishery resources (i.e., clams, oysters, and crabs).

“We’ve collectively taken steps to reduce the bay’s pathogen pollution and nutrient loading (e.g., stormwater basin projects, the Ocean County pump-out boat program, the nation’s toughest fertilizer law), reduce localized flooding (i.e., soil restoration and green infrastructure projects), and conserve water (e.g., our Jersey-Friendly Yards website, the Ocean County Soil Conservation District’s ‘Soil Health Improvement Project’).”

The BBP has also worked with the JCNERR, Sea Grant and others to help local communities reduce their vulnerability to climate change and sea level rise, and they’ve partnered with the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust, NJDEP Green Acres, the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and the Trust for Public Land to protect open space.

“The BBP and its many partners continue to educate the public, including schoolchildren, tourists, elected officials and others about the bay’s issues,” Hales remarked. “Ocean County College and the county Board of Chosen Freeholders have steadfastly provided administrative and other support, which has enabled us to commit more of our resources to our work in the bay. And lastly, Save Barnegat Bay, American Littoral Society, Clean Ocean Action and other non-governmental organizations have worked hand-in-hand with us on numerous efforts and tirelessly advocated in support of our mission.”

JCNERR’s mission, meanwhile, is “to improve the management of New Jersey coastal environments and communities through science, education and stewardship,” Auermueller explained. The group’s goals, she added, include “enhanc(ing) coastal management programs through application of sound scientific research and monitoring that assess drivers of environmental change in estuarine and wetland ecosystems, including environmental change, eutrophication, habitat loss and alteration, invasive species, and other factors.”

The organization seeks to “provide science-based information for decision-makers to inform management of coastal ecosystems and communities,” and to “advance environmental appreciation, scientific literacy and the ability to make science-based decisions that positively impact the estuaries, watersheds and communities along the nation’s coasts.”

The JCNERR has 13 total staff, most of them partially or fully funded by the reserve. “Regardless of funding source, 12 out of 13 of us are fully grant funded, meaning without some form of grant support, we don’t have jobs,” said Auermueller.

If our funding was fully cut we would have to lay off staff and perhaps even close the coastal education center in Tuckerton. We would no longer be able to continue the long-term water and weather monitoring that we have been doing for decades. We would stop offering Coastal Training Program workshops and technical assistance to local municipalities and counties, and our public and teacher education programs would have to be suspended.”

She added, “The reserve was designated by Congress into the national system of reserves 20 years ago this year. Since that time we have been tracking changes in our estuarine system, providing science-based information to coastal decision makers so they can understand the impacts of their decisions ,and  have been educating the public and teachers so generations of new and life-long learners can understand and appreciate the natural habitats they live and work in. We provide all of our services to the local area free of charge, and do so because we received federal funding and because we wanted to contribute to the local area.

“Additionally, our programs bring in participants from outside the Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor area, all who spend money locally in restaurants, hotels and with providing local services to our programs, like catering and laundry. All of these types of benefits would be lost to the local economy if the reserve was no longer operational.”

Sea Grant Provides
Vital Scientific Data, More

N.J. Sea Grant, which this Saturday, April 22 – Earth Day – will host a screening of the film “Ocean Frontiers III” at the Ship Bottom Firehouse, is an affiliation of colleges, universities and other groups dedicated to advancing knowledge and stewardship of the state’s marine and coastal environment, and meets its mission through innovative research, education and extension programs.

The overall Sea Grant program, as noted at seagrant.noaa.gov, aims “to enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal, marine and Great Lakes resources in order to create a sustainable economy and environment. A network of 33 Sea Grant programs in the coastal U.S. states and territories carries out this mission through research, extension and education activities.”

As Rowe noted, Sea Grant has to match every federal dollar it receives. And, he remarked, “the dollars go to do work. The dollars go to help our constituents or stakeholders so they can make informed scientific decisions.”

A number of jobs would be impacted by budget cuts, but, as Rowe emphasized, there would also be a great informational deficit for stakeholders – communities, individuals, businesses – that depend on the organization’s research and programs: everything from fisheries studies and aquaculture development to storm recovery and long-term planning.

Post Superstorm Sandy, the group took action to educate about and initiate restoration of dunes, “a natural mechanism to reduce the impact of storms,” said Rowe. Sea Grant created a digital dune manual for communities to use for planting guidance after beach replenishment, and conducted several dune-focused workshops for feedback from stakeholders.

The organization donates dune signs to coastal towns, which include an explanation about dunes' ecological importance. Their rip current signs, as well, are explanatory and advisory.

Also following Sandy, Sea Grant embarked on a “Coastal Storms Awareness Program” to explore why people evacuated or stayed; the project investigated messaging and decision making.

Other Sea Grant programs include Ocean Fun Days, on Island Beach State Park each May; K-12 education outreach; demonstrations at Jenkinson’s Aquarium; summer camps; flood risk communication; and the Clean Marina Program.

In short, said Rowe, “Sea Grant dollars have an impact.”

“Natural protective coastal infrastructure, such as beaches, dunes and wetlands, create and sustain U.S. jobs, protect public resources and private property, and drive the U.S. economy. Congress would be wise to invest in these resources (and the science that supports them) despite the administration’s budget blueprint that leaves U.S. coasts vulnerable by cutting vital programs and underfunding the science that protects lives, property and ecological resources,” Derek Brockbank, executive director for the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, wrote in response to the proposed budget cuts.

The ASBPA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 1926 to advocate for healthy coastlines by promoting the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America.

“Countless examples such as Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Matthew make a convincing case that by investing millions of dollars now in coastal protection and resilience, the federal government will save billions of dollars in storm and flood damage later,” said Brockbank. “Similarly, maintaining a reasonable federal investment in coastal science and technology offers a great return on investment through better coastal management and more effective response to natural disasters and manmade environmental emergencies.”

He added, “Restoring and maintaining our nation’s first line of defense against coastal storms and flooding is a job bonanza,” with NOAA estimating that coastal restoration creates or maintains 17 to 33 jobs for every million dollars spent. “These are jobs at all levels of the economy: commercial fishermen and charter boat captains, lifeguards and hotel workers, dredging crews and coastal small business employees, construction workers and engineers.”

And healthy coasts drive the profitable coastal economy.

“An investment in coastal science and infrastructure is an investment in America’s future,” said Brockbank. “Congress must take the lead and develop a budget that builds up our coast, not following a blueprint that tears it down.

“In particular, coastal members of Congress need to take a strong stand for investing in coastal infrastructure and research. They will be the ones meeting with constituents whose homes have washed away, or worse, because cuts to coastal data, shoreline restoration and monitoring programs made storm predictions worse, allowed unacceptable coastal ecological degradation and left coastal communities, their residents, and their economic futures more vulnerable.”

Former Governors Join Voices
With NJ Conservation Foundation

In her April 6 “The State We’re In” column, Michele S. Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, pointed to a bipartisan group of leaders – former governors Brendan Byrne (D), Thomas Kean (R), James Florio (D) and Christine Todd Whitman (R), along with former Congressman Rush Holt (D) and former Assemblywoman Maureen Ogden (R) – who have joined with the foundation to take such a stand, and to promote a set of principles to protect public lands, water, air and wildlife.

“For most of the past 50 years, New Jersey led the nation in preserving land and protecting clean water, clean air and wildlife,” Byers wrote. “Decade after decade, New Jersey voters came out strongly in favor of land preservation and environmental protections.

“These critical issues are not partisan. Party politics have nothing to do with our need for clean water, clean air, parks, wildlife preserves and farms for a fresh food supply.”

She continued, “Although New Jersey has often gone above and beyond federal requirements, our success has depended in large measure on federal laws, policies, funding and programs. Since the 1960s – when rivers caught fire and air was thick with pollutants – the federal government passed key laws protecting land, water, air and wildlife. The Environmental Protection Agency has been a reliable ally and partner, regardless of political leadership in Washington.

“But that changed with the new Trump administration. We’re now facing unprecedented efforts to weaken and rescind environmental laws, programs, funding and regulations.”

The foundation and its partners are now asking New Jersey’s entire congressional delegation to sign on to defend environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and Wilderness Act; protect public land and funding for land preservation; promote renewable energy and energy conservation; enforce that all federal agencies, policies and laws be grounded in sound science; and work to address the threat of man-made climate change.

“We must reject the false premise that protecting our environment is harmful to the economy, when in fact the opposite is true,” said Kean. “Undermining environmental protections will only cost us more down the road as we pay the price to clean up pollution and address public health impacts. Our country’s economic health and prosperity depend on maintaining our essential environmental laws and regulations.”

Byers asks residents to join the N.J. Conservation Foundation-led bipartisan effort to defend the environment by contacting congressional representatives and urging them to adopt the “Principles to Protect our Public Lands, Water, Air and Wildlife.” To send a message to your representative, visit act.njconservation.org/principles.

“If you care about clean water, a healthy bay and the shore’s economy, it’s vital for you to encourage your elected officials in the House of Representatives to sign onto the House Appropriations letter in support of the National Estuary Program,” said Hales.

“As Gerry Kauffman noted in his 2012 report, ‘Economic Value of the Barnegat Bay Watershed,’ the Barnegat Bay watershed contributes roughly $4 billion each year to the New Jersey economy.  Wetlands, forests and other watershed habitats provide $2.3 billion a year in ecosystem goods and services, such as water filtration, flood control and soil conservation. The watershed also directly and indirectly supports over 55,000 jobs with over $2 billion in annual wages. A healthy bay helps supports a thriving economy and our quality of life. The report confirmed what generations of Jersey Shore visitors have known for a long time,” said Hales, “that pound for pound, the Barnegat Bay has supported one of the most valuable economies of any estuary in the nation.”

Auermuller, meanwhile, encourages anyone who has ever been to a JCNERR program, used its data or tools, or interacted with one of its staff to contact their representatives in D.C. A website, nerra.org/my-reserve-our-coasts, has been helping get the word out about the group’s value and lets people know how to take action to help support funding for the reserve system.

The JCNERR is on Facebook, at facebook.com/JCNERR, and has been using the social media hashtag #MyReserveOurCoasts. Also, the reserve has posted a video about the organization’s importance at youtube.com/watch?v=vstvFLFNo7g.

Auermuller is also willing to take questions and offer guidance directly at 609-812-0649, extension 204.

“Please consider contacting your elected officials to tell them you oppose these cuts,” N.J. Sea Grant urges. “Visit njseagrant.org/support for more information and congressional contacts.”

“Hearing from constituents,” said Rowe, “that’s important.”

juliet@thesandpaper.net

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