Restore America’s Estuaries Supports Blue Carbon provisions in the FY21 Reconciliation Bill

By Daniel Hayden

For more than a decade, RAE has been advocating for “Blue Carbon,” or the ability of coastal habitats to mitigate the effects of climate change through the sequestration and storage of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The FY21 Reconciliation Bill before Congress is a key opportunity to advance this nature-based solution that also protects property from storms and floods, and creates outdoor recreation opportunities for us all. 

Sections 70501 and 70505 of the Reconciliation Bill provide historic levels of funding for coastal habitat restoration and blue carbon ecosystems. Section 70501 would provide $9.5 billion to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to protect and restore coastal habitat nationwide, including support to design and implement blue carbon projects.  

Section 70505 would provide $95 million to NOAA through the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Marine Sanctuaries Program for research and extension activities to characterize, quantify, map, and study blue carbon ecosystems, and projects that protect and restore blue carbon ecosystems. To our knowledge, this would be the first time blue carbon is recognized in Federal policy. 

To make Blue Carbon a routine part of coastal management, RAE encourages Congress to establish an interagency working group to coordinate federal funding and programs. Protecting and restoring blue carbon ecosystems requires mapping, research, technical assistance, financing of projects, and post-restoration monitoring, among other activities. These functions are spread across multiple agencies that presently collaborate at the program level but lack strategic coordination among the agencies’ senior management and White House offices.  

RAE also recommends establishing an interagency working group to coordinate federal activity, with participation by the Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Science and Technology Policy. Further, RAE recommends directing NOAA to coordinate with other relevant agencies to ensure all federal agencies receive sufficient support within the appropriated amounts to support the blue carbon activities within NOAA.  

The need to protect our coasts is too big for just the federal government to solve  and RAE sees an opportunity for increased support for public-private partnerships. Some estimates project carbon markets to reach $50 billion in value by 2030. Much work remains to be done if blue carbon ecosystems are going to be fully utilized within these markets, and public-private partnerships will be essential to the process.  

RAE recommends that Congress expressly appropriate funds to support public-private partnerships to develop blue carbon ecosystems for voluntary carbon markets. The Environmental Protection Agency, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Program have relevant expertise to assist NOAA and other agencies in this effort. 

In a 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center, over 65% of Americans acknowledge climate change happening now, and is affecting their community; the highest percentage since the survey began in 2009. After a summer of fires and floods the link between climate change and our daily life has never been clearer. It is time for Congress to take an “all of the above” approach to address climate, while rebuilding our living infrastructure and creating domestic jobs.  

Daniel Hayden is the President & CEO of Restore America’s Estuaries. He is based in Arlington, VA.