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Making a difference on environmental issues will fall to citizens’ shoulders

By Jake Howard

Less than two weeks in office, and the new administration of President Biden is dramatically reversing course on a large number of the Trump administration’s environmental policies. In signing a slew of executive orders, Biden has already made the health of our planet a top priority.

As far as executive orders that will affect our oceans, Biden has committed the U.S. to rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change. This calls for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and a push toward a 100% clean economy.

Biden has also begun restoring environmental protections that were rolled back under Trump. One executive order is especially notable for surfers and ocean enthusiasts as it restores Clean Water Act protections and will allow for the potential rollback of prospective oil and gas projects—such as oil drilling off the California coast.

Additional executive orders have been signed to respond to the encroachment of development on national monuments and refuges. The headline here is that this will help protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It will also help protect areas including the Atlantic’s Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine Monument off the coast of New England, as well as spaces in the Pacific, presumably.

“While today’s announcements by the Biden administration are highly encouraging, there is an enormous amount of work to be done in the coming months and years,” Surfrider Foundation said in a statement. “The Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks run deep, and sustained commitment from our federal leaders and agencies will be needed to restore these protections. Moreover, our planet is mired in a climate emergency that demands immediate action on an unprecedented scale.”

It takes a lot of work to keep waves such as Lower Trestles clean and happy. Don’t take it for granted. Photo: Courtesy of WSL/Sean Rowland

Obviously, these are heated political times we find ourselves in, and I’m well aware that there is no shortage of opinions in our community. But no matter where you land on the Biden and Trump conversation, as surfers and people who value the health of our ocean, we can all recognize the value and importance in preserving and protecting this natural resource.

To be honest, I’ve never really understood why issues such as clean water and clean air are controversial or politicized. Don’t we all want to be able to breathe clean air and enjoy clean water?

More importantly, don’t we all want our kids to be able to enjoy and take advantage of those things? Of course, a spirited conversation about how we achieve all this is important, and there is no shortage of valid ideas, but I believe if we can tone down the rhetoric, we can work together toward viable solutions that benefit everyone.

These aren’t some far-off, abstract issues with which we’re dealing. We’re staring them in the face every day. The storage of nuclear waste from the decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near the high tides is among the more pressing matters.

In January, we experienced a series of King Tides that continued to erode the beaches from San Onofre to Capo Beach. Our beaches are literally disappearing before our eyes. We have plastic waste floating around in our local waters and ending up on the beaches. And every time there’s a big rain, our storm drains and arroyos flush oil and pesticides into the sea.

Again, these aren’t some hot-button political issues. These are things that affect every local person and family that want to enjoy the beach around here. Hopefully, as the days roll on, we can collectively come together and make our oceans a healthier, happier place to surf and enjoy.

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including Picket Fence Media, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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