For the better part of two decades, advocates for better national ocean policy found a sympathetic reception at the White House.
Now they don’t know what to expect.
Christine Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator under former president George W. Bush, does not like Trump’s pick of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to have her old job.
But Whitman also acknowledged Trump has “a reputation as a dealmaker” when she spoke last week to a gathering of ocean scientists, fishermen and others at Monmouth University in New Jersey.
That means the new administration and Congress need to hear from people with a stake in the oceans, stressed Whitman, who co-chaired the Joint Ocean Commission.
New regional ocean plans for the New England and Mid-Atlantic states had just come out, and “both of these reports will be going to the transition team,” said Whitman.
Whitman, a Republican in the moderate Northeast tradition, was fresh from a conference of the No Labels movement that tries to focus efforts of the remaining Democratic and Republican centrists in Congress. With fellow speaker Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, she told the audience they need to make an impression in Washington, D.C.
Trump’s “Electoral College base is not necessarily coastal,” Boesch said, referring to critical vote counts in the upper Midwest and Pennsylvania.
“During his campaign he repeatedly said climate change is a hoax,” and a Trump advisor called for ending NASA’s Earth monitoring programs, Boesch said.
“We might not like some of these things, but he is our president and we have to work with this administration,” Boesch said. With the prospect of long-term climate impacts like sea level rise, if the U.S. reneges on international emissions commitments “we are not only screwed in America, the world is screwed,” Boesch said.
Some of those impacts are already apparent, Boesch said.
“You can’t catch lobsters in Long Island Sound anymore” because of higher year-round water temperatures, he said. “Those changes will accelerate.”
Boesch recalled the “reasonable evolution of ocean policy” under both the Bush and Obama administrations. However the next administration shapes up, Whitman said, ocean policy will need support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
“You have to be careful about laying these hard and fast rules” with advocacy, Whitman cautioned. Like the federal Affordable care Act without Republican support, there is a danger “it’s all going to get unraveled,” she said.