Today marks the third day of the Harte Research Institute’s Gulf Summit in Houston, Texas. (For those who like technical restoration discussions and a little wonk with their lunch, you can watch the remainder of the conference livestreaming at UStream). It has been a hectic week packed with meetings, panels and side conferences all ultimately focused on one thing: achieving the lasting, long-term restoration of the Gulf of Mexico.
Three main themes have become clear in every seminar and presentation: the time to restore the Gulf is now, the imperative of local community involvement and support at every level, and the necessity of passing the RESTORE Act to return the Clean Water Act fines to the Gulf to fund restoration and renewal at the scale that is necessary.
Appropriately enough, the Summit began with the release of the Gulf Task Force’s combined state and federal strategy to restore the Gulf.
(Conferences like this are also a gold mine for acronym bingo. A bunch of NGOs, universities and government agencies all together talking science, we can’t help ourselves – but here are the takeaways. I’ll do my best to keep it as acronym-free as possible).
Restore the Gulf: Comprehensive Strategy
Though many plans for the Gulf have been written, this is the first to actively combine state and federal priorities and to seek and incorporate comment from people across the Gulf – in local communities, from businesses, non-profits and government agencies. The strategy is a tremendous step forward for the Gulf and creates a framework to help many people and organizations working in the region actively work toward the same goal.
Of course the trick with the strategy, as it is with any plan, is how to implement it. That is one of the main issues Summit attendees are grappling with.
Restore the Gulf: Implementation Begins
Here we give kudos to the United State Department of Agriculture, which, through the Natural Resource Conservation Service, is implementing projects aligned with the Gulf Task Force. In the same presentation announcing the strategy, Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, also announced a new $50 million NRCS Gulf of Mexico Initiative. The 3-year program builds on past and existing successful local projects and will help agricultural landowners improve water quality, increase water conservation and enhance wildlife habitat in watersheds that drain directly into the Gulf of Mexico.
In this time of budget scarcity, this is a tremendous investment in the Gulf. Their leadership is inspiring and begins to build the foundation we need for similar programs and commitments.
As important as it is, the NRCS alone, or the Conservancy alone, or any other organization alone, will not be enough to save the Gulf. This is truly a challenge of national proportion and it will take a national commitment to see it through.
Restore the Gulf: A National Problem Needs a National Commitment (or: Pass the RESTORE Act)
If you like to eat wild-caught shrimp, you have a stake in the future of the Gulf. Same goes for oysters. Same goes if you like to keep gas in your car, and the lights on in your house. More than half of the country’s domestic oil and gas is produced here, and if it’s not produced here, it’s probably refined somewhere on our coast.
The list of the Gulf’s influences on our nation go on and on, and the point is that, though the problems here may appear to be regional – far away from New York or California or New Hampshire – they’re not. That’s just an illusion of geography. Take a closer look at the map, the Gulf is our country’s backyard. And in every way, except latitude and longitude, the challenges here play out across our economy and our culture.
The strongest national commitment we can make to the Gulf is the passage of the bi-partisan RESTORE Act. Help return the Clean Water Act fines to the Gulf. Restoration will occur here, but benefits will accrue far beyond the Gulf state borders.
The Moment is Now
It’s an exciting time in the Gulf, and I hope we can continue to build on the momentum and the obvious commitment people have to restoration. It’s true that the Gulf faces many challenges, but it is also true that they are not insurmountable. And if this week has shown nothing else, it is that there is a strong and surging commitment to change the future of the Gulf of Mexico for the better.
It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but it can and must be done.
[Image: Oyster reef restoration at the Alabama Port in the Gulf of Mexico. Image source: Andrew Kornylak]