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Posted by on February 20, 2006 at 15:28:24:

FISHERIES AND OCEANS GET THE BUDGET AXE FROM BUSH ADMINISTRATION: Ocean and fisheries management and conservation would take the brunt of the proposed cuts to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the President's recently submitted FY 2007 budget. The budget, which looks to cut spending in most areas other than defense and homeland security, includes $3.681 billion for NOAA, $169 million less than last year's request, and approximately $50 million less than what Congress approved.

The National Ocean Service budget would drop $177 million to $413 million, with ocean resources conservation and assessment taking $84.4 million (nearly half) of the cuts. Money for ocean-related programs, including oversight of the nation's 13 national marine sanctuaries, would drop $3 million to $127.9 million. Meanwhile, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) budget would drop $66.9 million from last year to $736.9 million.

The cuts should have come as no surprise given the massive federal budget deficit that has accumulated over the past five years resulting from the Iraq invasion, hurricane disaster relief and federal tax cuts. NOAA officials, however, were assuring their subordinates not to worry up to the announcement of the budget and were even making plans for new spending programs. Indeed, NOAA Administrator, Retired DOD Navy Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, was touting increases in the agency budget when announcing it 7 February, including $107 million for an ecosystem management initiative.

"This proposed budget is a clear indication of the Bush Administration's commitment to protect lives and livelihoods through the missions of NOAA," said Lautenbacher. "This budget request will provide improvements to fisheries management, increases for tsunami and hurricane warnings, marine transportation safety, and to ensure environmental satellite continuity."

That view was not shared by Save Our Wild Salmon which, after reviewing the Administration's FY 2007 funding request for NMFS, issued a scathing statement the following day, saying, "this budget proposal will take its place in a long line of anti-salmon actions put forth by the Bush Administration. that will dramatically underfund federal efforts to restore salmon and steelhead up and down the West Coast and inland to Idaho.

Of particular concern to Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of commercial and sport fishing groups, conservationists and local businesses, was the Bush Administration's low-ball request of $67 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, which provides crucial assistance to states, tribes, and local governments as they strive to protect salmon runs; fiscal year 2007's request reflects a $23 million drop from last year's, and falls at least $130 million short of what the federal government needs to contribute to help ensure the success of local and regional salmon recovery plans.

"Restoring healthy, fishable salmon and steelhead runs to our communities means making on-the-ground and in-the-water improvements to rivers and streams up and down the West Coast and inland to Idaho," said Michael Garrity of American Rivers. "The President's budget would severely undercut these efforts - now it's up to Congress to make sure that underfunded recovery plans don't continue to serve as an obstacle blocking salmon recovery."

The Administration's budget does call for $578 million to fund the federal salmon plan for the Columbia and Snake Rivers. While this reflects a slight increase over last year's request of $571 million, the federal salmon plan has been ruled illegal, in part for failing to address the most significant cause of salmon mortality in the Columbia-Snake Basin: dams -- particularly four low-value, outdated dams on the lower Snake River, according to Save Our Wild Salmon.

Some NOAA divisions that would see increases in funding are the National Weather Service, which would receive an additional $34 million over FY 2006, and the Office of Oceanic & Atmospheric Research, which would gain $11.6 million for climate research. But fishery programs and most other ocean programs, already sorely underfunded, would face further cuts. In light of the recent bipartisan Joint Oceans Commission Initiative (JOCI) drubbing of the President's performance on ocean management (see Sublegals 12:05/01), the Marine Fish Conservation Network's (MFCN) co-chair, Gerald Leape, said, "these drastic cuts in oceans funding, proposed by the Bush Administration, will prohibit implementation [of] any of the recommendations from the Pew and U.S. Oceans Commissions. Although these recommendations to restore health to the nation's ocean ecosystems were largely endorsed by the President's own ocean action plan, his Administration seems anxious to eighty-six them" (for more, go to: www.net.org/proactive/newsroom/release.vtml?id=29058).

The Joint Ocean Commissions' Initiative issued its own statement, as well, on the budget saying its initial reaction confirms our fear that that the fate of our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes remain in jeopardy due to a lack of commitment to fiscal and institutional changes. A JOCI statement went on to say, the incremental funding increases are more than offset by stagnation and decreases in funding for various programs across the federal government. The FY 2007 ocean and coastal-related budget request for programs within the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, the nation's lead ocean agency, is $280 million less than the amount appropriated by Congress for the agency's operations in FY 2006. The request is also $15 million less than the amount requested by the Administration for these programs in FY 2006.

Nor were the JOCI criticisms limited solely to the NOAA budget cuts, when it said further, of continuing concern is EPA's Clean Water Act State Revolving Funding request of $688 million, which is 23 percent below the FY 2006 enacted level of $887 million. These funds allow states to provide sources of low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects, such as repair of aging sewage treatment facilities. These facilities are crucial to protecting water quality throughout the nation, water that drains to our coasts. This proposed cut is particularly difficult to support given recent estimates indicating that repairs and upgrades to aging wasterwater infrastructure will cost the nation $380 billion over the next 20 years.

Funding is key to protecting our oceans. The stagnation or loss of funding for ocean-related programs is disappointing in light of the comprehensive recommendations and funding requests identified by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission.

Our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes are major economic engines, yet are clearly in serious trouble and require urgent attention. While we are facing an austere budget environment, the long-term prosperity of this nation is compromised due to the continuing lack of investment in core programs that will protect, maintain, and restore the health of our ocean and coastal resources and the economic vitality they generate.

For more information on NOAA's budget, contact Jordan St. John of NOAA Public Affairs' Office at (202) 482-6090; for more on the JOCI statement on the Bush Administration budget, contact David Roscow at (703) 276-2772 (Ext.21), or go to: www.jointoceancommission.org. For more on the Save Our Wild Salmon statement, go to: www.wildsalmon.org.

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