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Considering “Coastal Carbon” in Existing U.S. Federal Statutes and Policies

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Coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses provide important ecosystem services, including nursery habitat for fish, shoreline protection, and the recently recognized service of carbon sequestration and storage. When these wetland ecosystems are degraded or destroyed, the carbon can be released to the atmosphere, where it adds to the concentration of greenhouses gases (GHGs) that contribute to climate change. Many federal statutes and policies specifically require that impacts on ecosystem services be considered in policy implementation. Yet, no federal statute, regulation, or policy accounts directly for the carbon held in coastal habitats. There are a number of federal statutes and policies for which coastal carbon ecosystem services could reasonably be added to environmental and ecosystem considerations already implemented. We look at a subset of these statutes and policies to illustrate how coastal carbon ecosystem services and values might affect the implementation and outcomes of such statutes generally. We identify key steps for the inclusion of the ecosystem services of coastal habitats into the implementation of existing federal policies without statutory changes; doing so would increase the degree to which these policies consider the full economic and ecological impacts of policy actions.

Keywords: agency; assessment; ecosystem service; environmental impact; implementation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA 2: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA 3: U.S. Geological Survey, USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA

Publication date: 2013-09-03

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