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It’s unwise to cut Coast Guard, NOAA

Agencies vital to U.S. coastlines deserve presidential support

Published on March 14, 2017 5:34PM

New presidential administrations inevitably have different spending priorities. Particularly when the White House switches political parties, such reexaminations are expected and encouraged. Call it what you will — draining the swamp, sweeping out the cobwebs — but citizens understand the advisability of getting fresh eyes into leadership positions.

At the state level, it can be observed that decades of one-party control of governors’ offices can lead to entrenched patterns of decision-making and a failure to rigorously challenge assumptions. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the fact Democrats have held Oregon’s governorship since January 1987 and Washington’s since January 1985 comes with a long-term institutional mindset that not all find to their liking. If nothing else, electing a Republican would give voters a baseline for comparing different approaches.

Priorities of the Donald Trump administration are starting to take shape, upending not just eight years of agenda-setting by a Democratic White House, but also challenging long-held priorities espoused by a majority in Congress. Some of these upcoming choices will have direct consequences in our area. It behooves us to pay attention. Beyond revisions in national healthcare laws — a subject that will dominate political debates for months or years to come — potential cuts to the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Weather Service and federal fisheries programs deserve close scrutiny in a place that is closely intertwined in all three.

Emphasizing that nothing is settled and Congress has ultimate control over spending, cuts to the Coast Guard are worrying. Columbia River communities rely on the USCG in ways well beyond its most obvious maritime safety, search and rescue roles. Not least, USCG Sector Columbia River is a massive part of our economy — protecting 420 miles of coast, 465 miles of inland rivers and 33 ports with an active-duty workforce of 500, plus 105 reserve, 29 civilian and 890 volunteer Auxiliary personnel.

To free money for his “Great Wall,” Trump is eying a 14 percent cut in Coast Guard spending, subtracting $1.3 billion from its 2017-18 budget. A considerable fraction of these cuts would come from canceling a $500 million contract for a ninth National Security Cutter — an expense others have also questioned. But other USCG budget cuts detailed in a plan obtained by the Washington Post would impact drug-interdiction patrols and other national security/law enforcement activities in which our local Coast Guard plays an integral part.

NOAA is essential

Trump’s reported 17 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — of which the National Weather Service is a part — would have a large impact on several programs of intense local interest.

“I am extremely concerned about the proposed elimination of the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, the Ocean Acidification Program, the NOAA estuary research program, the tsunami preparedness grant funding, the Sea Grant program, and other severe cuts,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said. We ought to all share her concerns on these matters.

Writing for Seattle PI.com (tinyurl.com/SeattlePI-NOAA-Cuts), Joel Connelly provides valuable context for how devastating these cuts would be, and suggests that our region’s congressional delegation should be fired up to resist them.

“The Trump administration is planning a tsunami of budget cuts to the federal government’s chief climate science agency, gutting Northwest programs from Pacific Coast salmon recovery to ocean weather buoys, to preparation for tsunamis,” Connelly reported. Axing the Sea Grant program — long exemplified in our area by the esteemed Jim Bergeron — would subtract millions from rural coastal economies, while cutting acidification work would undercut the vital shellfish and crab industries on the Oregon and Washington coast.

Call our reps and senators

Connelly points out both U.S. House members representing the Washington Coast — Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer — serve on the House Appropriations Committee. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, serve on the U.S. Senate’s spending panel. All can and must fight to preserve the budgets of agencies vital to our coast.

Citizens can help by contacting members of Congress and the White House and letting them know we support this spending that is so essential to our safety and economic wellbeing.

Yes, by all means drain the swamp. But don’t hide behind reformist rhetoric while killing or wounding federal agencies we greatly rely on.


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