What the Biden Administration Might Mean for the Blue Economy

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The campaign and career of President-elect Joseph R. Biden offer insights into his policy platforms that will affect the emergence of the blue economy over the coming four years and beyond. Although President-elect Biden has announced several policy platforms relating to energy, the environment, creating jobs, and transportation, few of his proposed policy priorities directly address the blue economy. It is incumbent on companies within the blue economy space to engage with the incoming administration to explain how their visions are in harmony with key administration goals such as combatting climate change, transitioning the U.S. energy sector, and providing jobs for American workers.

Background

The blue economy is in a position to expand its presence in the United States as a result of the Biden presidency. Most of this will almost certainly have to come from executive action. Divided government is currently the most likely scenario, and even if Democrats obtain a majority in the Senate, fossil fuel interests that perceive the blue economy as inimical to entrenched interests may prevent the passage of legislation that impacts the blue economy. Nonetheless, the passage from a Presidency that was inimical to the blue economy to one that has a great potential to embrace key aspects of it should be encouraging for stakeholders throughout the blue technology space. Further, President-elect Biden’s goals of reducing the United States’ carbon footprint and reentering the Paris Climate Accords dovetail well with many of the goals of the blue economy. 

Offshore Wind

Perhaps the biggest winner in the blue economy space is offshore wind. The Trump administration was opposed to offshore wind development, notwithstanding its tremendous potential for U.S. jobs, the maritime industry, and a source of clean and cost-effective power. Simply changing from the Trump administration to a Biden administration will likely help the nascent offshore wind industry. Additionally, the Biden administration is being welcomed with open arms by the offshore wind industry. Liz Burdock, CEO of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, recently stated that “the election of President-elect Biden puts the offshore wind energy industry on the precipice of substantial growth with the support of an administration that promises to put significant focus back on renewable energy, offshore wind among the beneficiaries.”

Further, the offshore wind industry can garner bipartisan support and support from various sectors of industry. For example, Congress passed recent legislation to expand the Jones Act—the United States’s version of maritime cabotage—to renewable energy activities on the outer continental shelf beyond oil and gas. There are concrete actions which the Biden administration can take to support offshore wind. While key industry priorities, such as a production tax credit, would require congressional approval, which is unlikely, there are still unilateral executive actions the Biden administration could take.

Renewable Energy

In a similar vein, other ocean-based renewable energy sectors could see a boon in the Biden administration. These sectors remain nascent, and federal research and development dollars could make a significant difference in building them up. Proofs of concept do exist for technologies such as tidalocean-based algae, and others, making them appealing targets as the United States seeks to increase its renewable energy portfolio in the coming years. Combined with the need to create new jobs and industries, these industries could advocate for incentives such as federal funding and other support. While Congress has considered legislation in this vein in the past, including a bill to promote ocean renewable energy, it is unlikely for such a bill to become law. Accordingly, policy decisions will largely be in the hand of the Biden administration, and the key factor will be how successful such blue technology companies are in making their case to the administration to receive federal support.  

Maritime Transportation

Transportation is another sector that is largely within the scope of the President’s authority. While the maritime industry is far and away the most efficient mode of transportation measured on a “per tonne kilometer basis,” one portion of the industry that has an outsized effect on pollution is ships at port. The Biden administration could help revitalize port economies while providing for environmental benefits by modernizing electrification efforts at ports to allow vessels to more easily use shore power. The U.S. flag fleet and shipbuilding are also subject to significant control from executive agencies. The Biden administration could use this authority to incentivize reduced (or zero) emission technologies aboard vessels serving the domestic trade. Such vessels must be built in domestic shipyards, and both trades have been struggling relative to the international shipping market, in large part due to a lack of government funding and support relative to other countries. Creating incentives to advance low or zero emission vessels for the domestic fleet could successfully wed two Biden policy priorities: lowering emissions and creating domestic infrastructure. Such policy would be especially appropriate given the propensity of the domestic shipping industry to be an early adopter of clean energy technologies. For example, in 2015, Harvey Gulf International Marine became the first company in North America to operate an LNG powered vessel, and recently began operating a “tri-fuel”—diesel, LNG, and battery—powered vessel. The U.S. flag fleet’s appetite for innovation makes it a fertile ground for promoting the Biden administration’s policy priorities, and emerging blue tech companies can play a positive role in turning policy into reality. 

Fisheries Management

Fisheries management will also largely be within the purview of the Biden administration. In particular, the administration has an opportunity to reconcile its environmental goals with the opportunity to provide strong livelihoods for fishing communities throughout the United States—goals which studies have shown are compatible.

At the intersection of foreign affairs and fisheries management, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing continues to be a problem throughout the world.  Ensuring that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (often challenged by the Trump administration) and responsible stakeholders in the fishing industry have the resources they need will help reduce IUU fishing, particularly in the Pacific Ocean, and preserve an important resource.

Conclusion

As the Biden administration begins to take shape, a clear platform on the blue economy has yet to become apparent. However, numerous fundamental administration policies share common goals with many companies that form the blue economy. Such companies will be more likely to find support from relevant federal agencies than from Capitol Hill, regardless of the outcome of January’s final Senate races in Georgia. Companies should examine how their own mission and vision intersect with the policy priorities of the incoming administration and be ready to capitalize on the opportunities coming out of Washington over the next four years.

“What the Biden Administration Might Mean for the Blue Economy,” by Stefanos N. Roulakis was published in SeaAhead on December 17, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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