As climate change begins to impact the ocean, legislative action could help the ocean be one of the ways to solve the problem.
That's the message Jean Flemma, director of the Ocean Defense Initiative, shared last week during a discussion with the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition.
And the rest of the country would be better off if it followed Oregon's lead, she said.
"Oregon was ahead of the curve when it came to ocean planning," Flemma said. "As much as Oregon was a leader in ocean planning 30 years ago, the state is still a leader today."
Flemma said as the climate changes, the ocean is overwhelmingly impacted.
"The climate crisis is an ocean crisis," she said. "The ocean has been capturing our global climate emissions, and it has been absorbing the heat."
Flemma listed ways the ocean has struggled due to climate change, pointing to rising sea levels, coral bleaching, toxic algae, acidification and struggles in the fishing industry. But as much as the ocean has changed, it can be a part of the solution, if local, state and federal politicians are willing to act.
"Here in the U.S., integral ocean policy was somewhat stymied the last four years at the political level," she said.
Flemma said politicians need to act on several different levels, the first being harnessing the ocean's power to address climate change.
She specifically pointed to the prospect of expanding win energy in the ocean in an effort lessen the demand for fossil fuels.
Second would be to increase the ocean's resiliency to climate change, and finally, protect the ocean's ability to capture carbon.
"To put any of these policies in place, Congress, administration, state and local governments will have to continue to take action," Flemma said. "There's a lot of hope the Ocean Climate Act we want to see will be included in the reconciliation package."
The first step Flemma wants to see is a permanent ban on offshore drilling.
"Why the Biden administration did pause offshore drilling, the ban has already been lifted," she said.
Flemma said both Oregon senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are pushing for a permanent ban.
In addition, governments need to push for more clean energy offshore.
"We need to scale up clean offshore energy," Flemma said. "The administration has committed to getting 30 gigawatts of offshore energy by 2030, but 30 gigawatts is not that much."
Flemma said Oregon must see changes if it wants to continue as the state we know and love.
"In Oregon, the coast defines what we are," she said. "Looking ahead, we have right now in the reconciliation process, the ability to collect $2 billion for projects for the ocean. We could be looking at $7-$10 billion for ocean restoration projects. Should this money actually appear, this will be a huge opportunity for Oregon."
Overall, up to $500 billion could be included in federal money to combat climate change, she said.
"The devil will be in the details," Flemma said. "Where is the money going to? The next few weeks we will learn a lot more about that. Depending on what does happen in the reconciliation process, there's going to need to be a lot more that needs to get done."