PT talks to Lois Capps, U.S. Congress-woman from California's central coast, about marine sanctuaries, coastal policy, and the many environmental issues driving the discussion.
PT: We thought it would be interesting to talk with you about coastal policy in light of Hawaii's recent good fortune.
Capps: You mean the new marine national monument? Yes, that was very exciting news. The new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Monument is the largest marine protected area in the world. I think we need to take more steps to protect our nation's most sensitive coastal and marine areas. That's why I recently announced the formation of a new National Marine Sanctuary Caucus in the House of Representatives. My colleague, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and I kicked off the caucus the same week as the President announced the creation of the new marine national monument.
PT: What types of things will you be working on?
Capps: We're just now getting going, but the purpose of the caucus is to allow my colleagues in the House to focus on and work together to raise awareness about the challenges we face in conserving our coastal and ocean resources. There's also a larger Oceans Caucus that has been around for a number of years. I hope our caucus will do things in a very bipartisan manner and build consensus on different topics, like the Oceans Caucus. There will be some overlap, since we share so many of the same goals. But the new National Marine Sanctuary Caucus will be more specific to the needs of National Marine Sanctuaries and the challenges they face.
PT: In your opinion, what are the most serious challenges facing California's coastline?
Capps: Well, there are several challenges, of course. We know that our coastal areas need watching, because they're always facing the threat of overdevelopment. As you know, people are flocking to our coastlines. So the problems that come with that increased development— pollution, coastal erosion, loss of wetlands—are major concerns. In California, we're also facing serious challenges, including over-fishing and proposals to allow new offshore oil and
PT: Is there any collaboration between state lawma-kers and federal lawmakers in crafting coastal policy for California? Do you talk with one another?
Capps: Yes, we do collaborate. Unfortunately, it falls along partisan lines a bit too much.
PT: Where is the best level to resolve these types of issues though? Should the California state lawmakers be handling it, or is it best approached at the national level with broader legislation?
Capps: This issue came up during the recent discussion on a House proposal to eliminate the longstanding, bipartisan ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling. As you know, states traditionally maintain control of waters 0-3 miles and the federal government controls waters 3-200 miles. This legislation—which of course hasn't passed the Senate yet, so it hasn't been signed into law—gives states unprecedented control of those federal waters. This is a radical change, allowing states to set national ocean policy. These are federal waters that belong to all Americans.
PT: If more power is devolved to the states in setting their coastal policies, will it significantly change the dynamic between the states and Washington?
Capps: Well, I think it's critically important that the federal government and coastal states remain active partners in decisions that take place off a state's coast and in federal waters. California, for example, has had a very successful coastal management program that has been supported by the federal government. It has balanced a variety of pressures at a time when those pressures are increasing.
Specifically on this offshore drilling bill, the Resources Committee designed it to make it easier for states to allow drilling than to prevent it. The bill creates hoops for states, like California, to jump through if they want to protect themselves from drilling. And even then, if Oregon decided it wanted to drill, CaliforniaOregon would affect my state. wouldn't have a say in the matter, even though drilling off
I hope we can strengthen the role between coastal states and the federal government.
PT: What are some of your legislative goals with respect to California's coastline in particular and the environment in general?
Capps: I want to revisit our coastal and ocean policies in a couple of areas, especially in terms of energy. Energy costs are on the tip of everyone's tongue, and for good reason. Personally, I don't think Washington has been very helpful and I don't think things will change much in the immediate future. It is time for a change of leadership and a change in direction. Right now we don't have a unifying, or national, vision for protecting our coasts and oceans. In my view, a national vision would guarantee clean beaches, healthy seafood and abundant ocean wildlife for all Americans.
As I said, the federal government hasn't done much—if anything—over the last few years in this area. For example, last year we had a chance to pass a comprehensive energy bill that could have moved us beyond our addiction to oil. Unfortunately, the bill was shortsighted and we missed a critical opportunity to enact a sensible energy policy that would have balanced our energy needs with protection of our coastal and marine areas. Instead the bill was driven by a futile desire to drill our way to energy independence. And it directed billions of taxpayer dollars to the oil and gas industries. This shortsightedness comes at a high cost to the public in the form of increased pollution in our air, water and other natural resources.
When people run for office, they don't' talk about environmental issues. They may not poll well, but they are critical. They are central to our discussions about public health, safety and national security. We need to change the way we talk about the environment, which is so important to our quality of life.
PT: Congresswoman, thank you for your time.
Lois Capps represents California's 23rd congressional district, which includes nearly 200 miles of the state's coastline. She serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, as well as the House Committee on the Budget.