Notice & Comment

Justice40 for the 30×30 Benchmark, by Seton Parsons

Within days of taking office, President Biden made a historic commitment that saw 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities. The Justice40 Initiative attaches federal funding to covered programs investing in climate change, clean energy, energy efficiency, and training and workforce development, among other priorities. Since the release of the Justice40 Initiative, the federal government has harnessed the power of offshore wind across vast swaths of America’s coastline, aiming to generate 30 gigawatts of clean energy by 2030. This is enough offshore wind to power 10 million homes and will lower energy costs for American families while protecting them from volatile fossil fuel price spikes in the future. 

While beneficial from an energy-cost saving perspective, meeting the administration’s conservation target may come at the expense of America’s commercial fishing industry. The instillation of wind turbines along the outer continental shelf will have profound disparate impacts on commercial fishing. Offshore wind leases are set to transform thousands of nautical miles into closed areas for fishing and other industries that navigate the seabed. A consistent mitigation formula would help to alleviate considerable burdens on fishing communities, as well as provide a reliable regulatory framework for developers seeking permits.  

The Justice40 Initiative provides a holistic approach that crosses jurisdictions along America’s coastal shelf with a standardized process to adequately support fishing communities as the offshore wind industry evolves to develop 30 gigawatts of power by 2030. Moreover, the Fishermen’s Contingency Fund (FCF) already provides compensation to fisheries for economic losses resulting from oil and gas extraction, but not losses caused by renewable energy development. By including the FCF into its list of covered programs, the U.S. Department of the Interior (Interior) can compensate fishing communities suffering economic losses caused by offshore wind development. 

Administered by Interior through the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, the FCF meets the necessary requirements for eligible investments of covered programs within existing statutory authorities. Furthermore, the Office of Natural Resources Revenue has yet to be included in Interior’s list of 65 covered programs under the Justice40 Initiative. As the United States transitions to offshore wind energy, expanding the FCF to cover impacts caused by offshore wind instillations is a logical transition. If Interior were to include the FCF in its list of covered programs under the Justice40 Initiative, federal funding attached to grants or loans could be matched by offshore wind developers in a Justice40 covered program for the purpose of fisheries mitigation. 

One of the many obstacles to fisheries is the lack of enforcement authority under the prevailing statute governing offshore wind developments. The absence of mitigation requirements or enforcement mechanisms under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act has resulted in a patchwork of compensatory mitigation packages negotiated on a project-by-project basis. Where fishing is precluded, developers have agreed to pay fixed amounts to offset direct, indirect, and cumulative economic impacts to fishing businesses for losses resulting from restricted fishing access, impacts on fish habitats, and increased competition within smaller sea areas.  

Previously, during passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress failed to establish funds dedicated to harms to fishery interests caused by offshore renewable energy projects. President Biden recently called on his first Congress to pass a clean energy permitting bill to jumpstart offshore wind development. If a future Congress were to offset proceeds from wind lease sales into a contingency fund, the fishing industry may be more amenable to offshore wind development. Because it already covers property and economic harms to fisheries caused by obstructions, the FCF provides a fishery friendly insurance program to compliment the federal permitting process. In the absence of Congressional action, President Biden has provided Interior with the necessary tools to incorporate the FCF into its fleet of covered programs through the Justice40 Initiative.  

Today, the United States imports more than three quarters of its seafood, and competition from importers is an acute challenge for fisheries that offshore wind will likely exacerbate. The downstream effects of offshore wind energy development will further displace shipyard workers, ice suppliers, processing plants, fuel barge captains, and dock employees. Fisheries also suffer disproportionately from natural disasters, inclement weather, and seasonal fluctuations. For example, many beached fishing boats in south Florida will never return to sea after being run aground by Hurricane Ian. Fishing quotas, environmental regulations, and rising fuel costs are other challenges unique to fishing communities. Justice40 covered programs are designed to ensure that federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities through programs covering training and workforce development. The legacy status of the FCF provides the proper vessel for a national mitigation framework to protect fishers, fishing processing facilities, and shoreside businesses. 

Fishing’s future depends on climate change. The most critical threats fishers face stem from rising sea temperatures. Because oceans absorb most of the excess heat created by greenhouse gas emissions, warming water temperatures threaten the future of marine life and aquiculture. Justice40 ensures that benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy also flow to vulnerable fishing communities. Enhanced community resilience to climate change will help make the Justice40 Initiative a reality for frontline fishing communities. By classifying the FCF as a covered program through the Justice40 Initiative, the federal government can assess standard fees on offshore wind developers and direct a portion of offshore wind lease sales and revenues to subsidize payments to impacted fishing communities. 

Our shared national goal to secure 30 gigawatts of clean energy by 2030 comes at a time when the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the rest of the ocean. These dramatic shifts in ocean temperature impact important fish species that have thrived in Maine waters during all recorded history. Mainers have commercially fished lobster for generations, but rapid warming has altered ocean biochemistry. Rising temperature patterns have forced lobsters farther north to Canada, and species typically found south of Cape Cod, such as black sea bass, blue crab, and seahorses, are now migrating to the Gulf of Maine. Successfully administered climate policies protect workers on the front lines of the energy transition. Justice40 covered programs are appropriately designed to protect disadvantaged communities facing high cumulative impacts, rising transportation costs, and jobs lost to clean energy conversion. 

The fishing industry is a uniquely diverse community that has traditionally been the primary user of coastal waters. Native American tribes have been angling in the Pacific Northwest since before 1776. Federally recognized indigenous nations were historically marginalized during previous eras of energy expansion, such as periods of diminishing land rights and water sovereignty due to fossil fuel development. The vulnerabilities of the United States fishing industry merits fisheries special status in the co-use of our oceans. America’s national epic parables the maritime heritage of fishing communities in the greatest sea story ever told, Moby Dick. In a win for America’s oldest seaport, the most recent Academy Award for Best Actor went to Troy Kotsur for his portrayal of hearing-impaired anglers in the movie CODA, spotlighting the Massachusetts fishing industry. Remedial action through inclusion in the Justice40 Initiative will help to ensure adequate compensation is provided to historically disadvantaged communities like offshore fisheries. 

For offshore wind to reach its potential of 30 gigawatts by 2030, standardized mechanisms are critical to coalesce and balance competing uses of ocean space. The Justice40 Initiative provides Interior with a whole-of-government approach to bringing the benefits of federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged fishing communities. Interior can deliver on the Justice40 Initiative by incorporating into its initial list of covered programs already existing benefits like the FCF. Classifying the FCF to include harmful effects to fisheries from offshore renewable energy development will quickly demonstrate the real and positive impacts the Justice40 Initiative can have on disadvantaged communities. The FCF falls within the scope of statutory authorities for eligible investments of Justice40 covered programs and will benefit disadvantaged fishing communities by requiring offshore wind developers to pay fair assessments for economic and property losses, like oil and gas companies do.  

Seton Parsons is an attorney in the United States Government. I wish to thank Mrs. Prianka Sharma for ideas. Errors that remain are mine alone. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

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