Most of us understand the need for belt-tightening to reduce the federal budget, but recently proposed budget cuts — if enacted — will not be good news for boaters. In a huge surprise, the U.S. Coast Guard’s budget for 2018 was targeted with a 12 percent cut. Given President Trump’s desire to strengthen our borders and bolster defense spending, this seems at odds with his goals. The U.S. Coast Guard, whose current annual budget is $10.32 billion, stands to lose $1.3 billion. (The U.S. Navy has a 2017 budget of $165 billion.) Of all the military branches, there isn’t a leaner, more cost-effective outfit than the Coast Guard. It is a critical arm of Homeland Security and is America’s first line of defense to protect the public, the environment and U.S. economic interests along 12,383 miles of coastline and countless waterways — with equipment that can be considered museum pieces. Of the 35 cutters in operation, 25 are at least 50 years old. One is 73! Those cutters are offshore boaters’ guardian angels whose rapid response in a crisis is the difference between a rescue mission and a recovery operation.
NOAA, which is part of the Commerce Department, stands to lose 18 percent of its budget. Its Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would lose $126 million, or 26 percent, of the funds. Even more alarming for boaters are the cuts to the satellite data division, which would lose another $513 million, or 22 percent. This is the entity that provides 90 percent of the weather forecasting data that helps boaters know whether it is safe to go out. Cuts to the National Marine Fisheries Service could also negatively affect saltwater fishing policy and regulation monitoring.
The outdoor industry is an estimated $650 billion-a-year industry, and as far as the boating portion of that is concerned, the main requirement for its continued success is clean water. In the latest proposal, the EPA’s budget would be cut by 31 percent, from $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion, dealing a harsh blow to ecological efforts. Fifty EPA programs and grants would be completely eliminated, including the Clean Water Program and restoration projects in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.
The biggest losers in the $1.5 billion budget cut for the DOI is the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which are integral to providing boating access and promoting fish habitat restoration. They also oversee the disbursement of dollars to state agencies through the $600 million Sport Fish and Restoration Boating Trust Fund. National parks such as the Everglades are teetering on the brink of extinction, and the already undermanned National Park Service can barely remain functional.
All proposed budgets have to be enacted by the legislative branch, and all boaters should contact their representatives and senators. People who love the outdoors and want to see it remain pristine are a powerful group of influencers … but only if we make our voices heard.