Opinion Columns & Blogs

Who will protect nation’s beaches from Trump’s drilling, climate policies?

Sunset off Bradenton Beach, Florida
Sunset off Bradenton Beach, Florida Herald staff photo

We’ve just celebrated the Fourth of July, but for millions of Americans their summer vacations have been in full swing for quite a while. The AAA estimated that 39.3 million people hit the road over the Memorial Day holiday alone, making it one of the busiest travel weekends on record — and the Fourth saw millions of travelers as well. For many Americans, the journey ended with a blanket on the sand and waves lapping on the shore.

Beaches are the workhorse engines that drive coastal economies. From Maine to Hawaii, beaches attract an endless stream of visitors who patronize local hotels, shops, and restaurants, contributing more than $100 billion to the Gross Domestic Product every year.

But the nation’s coasts are under threat. In recent weeks, the Trump administration has announced plans to expand offshore drilling, eliminate beach water quality grants, and reverse climate change policies. These proposals will cause permanent damage to the nation’s magnificent coasts if we don’t hold our federal leaders accountable.

On April 28, President Trump signed an executive order to expand offshore oil drilling in U.S. waters. The order directs the Department of the Interior to develop a new five-year oil- and gas-leasing program, putting the Atlantic coast, the Pacific coast, Florida’s Gulf Coast, and the Arctic Ocean at risk of new oil rigs.

Offshore oil drilling is a dirty and destructive industry that pollutes the ocean, destroys beaches, and puts coastal economies at risk. The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the more recent 2015 spill in Santa Barbara, California both did major damage to beaches and the tourism industry in those areas, previewing what is to come if we allow more drilling to take place.

Coastal communities and businesses are fighting back. On the Atlantic coast — a region at the top of the administration’s wish list for new drilling — more than 120 municipalities, 1,200 elected officials, and an alliance representing 35,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed offshore drilling.

The oil and gas industry is eager to turn a profit at the expense of the coasts, but the oil lobby can’t control the citizens’ voices. People are speaking out, and their members of Congress are listening. More than 100 House Democrats and Republicans recently signed a letter urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke not to allow any new offshore oil and gas drilling.

The communities and citizens who depend on clean coastlines must continue to demand that our government protect them.

Beaches also are under threat from pollution. The health of millions of beachgoers depends on safe water quality along the coasts. EPA water quality monitoring tells us when it’s safe to go in the water — resulting in more than 20,000 beach closures and advisories issued each year. Yet, Trump’s budget proposal for 2018 eliminates all funding for the EPA BEACH Grants program, which supports water quality monitoring at popular beaches across the country.

Funding for the grants program is critical to providing beachgoers with the information they need to avoid getting sick at the beach. The program helps states pay for testing and public notification programs, and often spurs local solutions to pollution problems. If beaches are contaminated and unsafe, it will not only take away a beloved American pastime, coastal tourism and recreation economies that provide 2.15 million jobs nationwide also will suffer.

With the administration’s lack of support for the BEACH Grants program, we must rely on Congress to provide the necessary leadership to protect clean water and public health. A day at the beach should not make you and your family sick. The pull of the beach has endured for generations, but we must act now to protect it for the future.

This column was originally published by the Miami Herald.

Pete Stauffer is environmental director of the Surfrider Foundation.