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Monday, February 27, 2012
Group fears impact of proposed cuts

By Jeff DiNunzio
ESPN Action Sports

Portions of the 2013 budget proposal released last week by the Obama Administration did not please the Surfrider Foundation. It eliminates $50 million in Environmental Protection Agency programs that either overlap with over federal agencies, can be implemented at lower levels or underperform.

Dana Point beach
A sign warns about high levels of ocean water bacteria in Dana Point, Calif.

Surfrider's gripe? Ridding of grants for beach monitoring and notifications -- an outlay of the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act passed by Congress in 2000.

Surfrider, a non-profit organization that works to protect oceans, waves and beaches around the world, took issue with an EPA report justifying its appropriations for next year that stated: "The Agency will eliminate the Beaches Grant Program with a reduction of $9.9 million in FY 2013."

In response, Surfrider has launched a petition campaign to urge President Obama to restore the grants that help uphold water and beach quality across the county. Surfrider currently has more than 4,600 online signatures toward its 25,000 signature goal. An arbitrary number, said Surfrider environmental director Chad Nelson, the group considers large enough to draw increased attention and influence to the issue. "It's clear that surfers use the ocean more than most groups, and tend to in the winter time," Nelson said of the need of the surfing community to speak up.

The EPA says the BEACH Act established "a uniform criteria for testing, monitoring, and notifying public users of possible coastal recreation water problems." Surfrider worries that reductions in federal support will weaken the standards used to measure coastal quality. "The levels that raised advisories or closures prior to [2000] were different in every state. It made it hard to know what the signs meant," Nelson stated. "We fear the standards will fall apart."

BEACH Act money allowed previously unprotected coastlines to be maintained, and its nationwide guidelines meant equivalent safety levels from Washington to California, Maine to Florida, the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast. (Nelson cited a National Resources Defense Council survey declaring 24,901 beach closures and advisories occurred in 2010 alone.) Money already allocated for 2012 water monitoring totaled $9.8 million to qualifying states. States and territories with recreational waters next to beaches or similar public access points were eligible. The length of the beach season, total miles of shoreline, and coastal population factored into the amounts allocated by the EPA. Florida and California received the most, each more than $500,000 for 2012. "In California," said Nelson, "federal money is about a third of the monitoring program."

However, the EPA is confident the precedent set by the BEACH Act will continue to serve as the paradigm for monitoring efforts undertaken by regional municipalities. "States and local governments now have the technical expertise and procedures to continue … without federal support," an EPA representative told ESPN.com. And the EPA claims that is because of the guidance and financing the agency provided.

But the President's plan is just the first step in the budget negotiations. Congress will examine the recommendations before the Senate and House reach a final budget resolution. That means Surfrider's petition is its opening move. As congressional budget proposals emerge, said Nelson, "where we have chapters, we'll raise the issue with congressman to get them to advocate for [restoring funding]."

Surfrider is also stressing the economic benefit of coastal upkeep. "It's a good investment to build trust with your coastal tourism policy because it generates so much revenue," declared Nelson, who concluded by simplifying Surfrider's objective: "What we want to know is, when you go down to the ocean, is it polluted?"