Elizabeth Warren Pitches ‘Blue New Deal’ To Fortify Coastal Economies

The Democratic presidential hopeful is betting offshore wind and new seafood policies can win her votes.

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren unveiled a proposal for a “Blue New Deal” to revitalize coastal economies by building climate change-ready ports, spurring new markets for sustainable seafood and reshaping the offshore energy sector to tap more wind and curtail oil drilling.

The nine-page plan adds to more than half a dozen campaign planks the Massachusetts senator has put forward to lower planet-heating emissions and adapt the United States to the changes already baked in from more than a century of unchecked fossil fuel burning and industrialization.

The proposal stands out as one of the most comprehensive plans yet to emerge to specifically target working waterfronts. Coastal economies were considered a blind spot in the Green New Deal movement that emerged over the past year and calls for a federal climate policy that guarantees good-paying jobs and rapidly transitions the country off fossil fuels. The resolution introduced in Congress in February outlining a Green New Deal made only a passing mention of oceans.

The focus on waterfronts comes as the United Nations climate summit in Madrid pays what activists would call overdue attention to the ways global warming is affecting oceans, which generate at least half of all oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere and have absorbed an estimated 93% of excess heat from emissions.

“While the ocean is severely threatened, it can also be a major part of the climate solution – from providing new sources of clean energy to supporting a new future of ocean farming,” Warren wrote in a campaign memo outlining the policy. “That is why I believe that a Blue New Deal must be an essential part of any Green New Deal – helping us fight climate change, protecting our health, and creating good, high-wage union jobs in the process.”

The campaign said the proposal did not include new investments beyond the $3 trillion Warren pledged to spend so far on climate efforts. Instead, the Blue New Deal outlines a suite of executive and regulatory actions.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren's "Blue New Deal" proposal stands out as one of the most comprehensive plans yet to emerge to specifically target working waterfronts.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren's "Blue New Deal" proposal stands out as one of the most comprehensive plans yet to emerge to specifically target working waterfronts.
Carlo Allegri / Reuters

Warming waters and overfishing are taking a toll on fisheries. In New England alone, climate shocks reduced fishing jobs by 16% from 1996 to 2017, a study published Monday found. Higher temperatures triggered shorter fishing seasons and algae blooms that made crabs toxic on the West Coast, causing fishers to sue oil companies to recoup losses last year. Mounting research, meanwhile, shows that an increasingly globalized seafood supply chain often involves slave labor in developing Asian economies.

Warren pledged to direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to more carefully regulate fisheries with climate change in mind and make it easier for U.S. fishermen to sell seafood directly to Americans. The proposal calls for a new U.S. Department of Agriculture program to research and develop policies to encourage ocean-based farming of shellfish and seaweed, a critical way to absorb carbon dioxide.

The plan restates Warren’s promise to end oil drilling on public lands by executive order and calls for federal agencies to “begin planning to phase out all offshore drilling.” Instead, her administration would aggressively boost the offshore wind industry that’s starting to boom in the Northeast, spurring, by one estimate, as many as 36,300 full-time jobs from Maine to Maryland by 2028.

Other provisions in the Blue New Deal outline ways to reduce plastic waste, prosecute industrial farms for pesticide pollution that exacerbates algae blooms, and rebuild ports to accommodate a cleaner shipping industry and prepare for sea level rise. The proposal looks internationally, too, staking out a vision for better global management of the high seas outside national jurisdictions ― an effort the U.S. would lead after rejoining the United Nations’ landmark Paris agreement, from which President Donald Trump has started the process of leaving.

The plan could create some blowback for Warren, whose position as the Democratic front-runner has slipped in recent polls. Fishing communities in Massachusetts are already facing hardship, raising questions about why the second-term senator didn’t propose provisions like this sooner. Some fishermen complain that the skills required for aquaculture don’t match those of hauling fish from the sea, and others are skeptical of the climate regulations that already limit what they can catch.

The pitch comes as progressives in the 2020 Democratic presidential race are betting climate change can secure critical victories in early states. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) released a TV ad in Iowa last month touting his highly rated Green New Deal proposal. Warren released her own climate-focused ad in Iowa and leaned into the offshore drilling issue that has animated politics in conservative South Carolina over the past two years.

This story was updated to include comment from the campaign.

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