Navigating the world of regional ocean management along the West Coast is complicated and one often becomes lost in a bit of acronym riddled alphabet soup. Regional efforts to protect and sustain vital ocean and coastal resources have resulted in the formation of several groups, each tasked with different yet somewhat overlapping priorities and issues. After all, it’s a big ocean, it’s a big geography to deal with, and it’s a tangle of geopolitical boundaries and jurisdictions.
This post is something like the “yellow-brick road” of the West Coast Land of Acronyms. I’m interested in three Governor level groups: the Pacific Coast Collaborative, the West Coast Governors Alliance, and the Western Governors‘ Association. What are these groups? What are they working on, and how do they connect?
Western Governors’ Association:
Established in 1984, the Western Governors’ Association is an independent, non-partisan organization of Governors from 19 Western states, two Pacific-flag territories and one commonwealth. The Association was formed to provide strong multi-state leadership in an era of critical change in the economy and demography of the West. The Western Governors recognize that many vital issues and opportunities shaping our future cross state lines and are shared throughout the West.
The Pacific Coast Collaborative:
On June 30, 2008, the leaders of the five jurisdictions signed the Pacific Coast Collaborative Agreement, the first agreement that brings together the Pacific leaders as a common front to set a cooperative direction into the Pacific Century. Out of this agreement was born the Pacific Coast Collaborative — a formal basis for cooperative action, a forum for leadership and information sharing, and a common voice on issues facing Pacific North America. The Collaborative includes the three west coast states, Alaska, and British Columbia.
West Coast Governors Alliance:
On September 18, 2006 the Governors of California, Oregon and Washington, signed the West Coast Governors‘ Agreement on Ocean Health. The Agreement, now called an Alliance, launched a new, proactive regional collaboration to protect and manage the ocean and coastal resources along the entire West Coast, as called for in the recommendations of the U.S. Commissionon on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission.
I’ll start with what I know best. I work for the West Coast Governors Alliance (WCGA). The WCGA completed an Action Plan in 2008 that consists of 26 action items achieve a vision for the health of West Coast coastal and ocean resources, including clean coastal waters and economically and environmentally sustainable coastal communities.
The WCGA isn’t the only group working on ocean health initiatives in the region, however, and with a changing reality for funding and capacity, distinguishing these groups and their efforts has become a priority for those involved to ensure that priorities are met without redundancies and with appropriate coordination.
I asked Keith Phillips from Governor Gregoire’s office in Washington to help explain the differences.
“State and provincial leaders have a strong interest in doing things jointly, to leverage their resources, strengthen their messages, and get better results. Groups like the PCC and WGA allow States (and BC) to come together on priority issues because the interests they have in common – and the many issues that don’t just change at the border. These groups deal with a diversity of issues – often the most important issues of the time.”
The WGA represents a much broader geography than the PCC and WCGA, which makes it more difficult to find topics that all 22 states agree on. Generally, the WGA’s mission is to address important policy and governance issues in the West, advance the role of the Western states in the federal system, and serve as a center for shared solutions to regional problems. It has brought attention to issues like regional consistency with the Endangered Species Act, and wildfire suppression and forest health. In reality, the WGA currently deals very little with ocean health issues, and more with the terrestrial landscape that aligns with the majority of its membership.
When we look at the highlights of the PCC, it is clear the organization addresses a wide range of topics. Because the PCC is meant to serve as a platform for the States rather than for a particular issue, there is little connection between priorities, which range from low carbon energy, to research and innovation, to emergency management. Ocean conservation and climate change are listed as ongoing priorities as well. Under these ocean and climate topic areas the PCC lists actions like the WCGA’s commissioning of the National Academy of Science’s Sea Level Rise study and several state-specific pieces of legislation that reduce emissions, promote green jobs, and encourage development of adaptation strategies for sea level rise. The “work” of the PCC is done by and through the implementing agencies and their partners, using existing groups where possible.
It’s a little easier to find common ground with the PCC which represents four states and BC. This smaller group shares what some call the “Cascadia perspective”; where economies and environmental issues are more closely aligned than in other western states and provinces.
With both groups however, any issue surfacing regionally can be brought to the table. Broader issues that impact more than just the west coast may be brought through the WGA, whereas issues specific to coastal states (i.e. tsunami debris or ocean acidification) would be introduced through groups like the PCC or the WCGA.
Governors get together on issues of interest. Sometimes the entire Collaborative or Association agree – sometimes not, which leads to smaller groups breaking off to adopt a resolution or agreement.
“It doesn’t matter what box they go in – each group serves as a forum for discussion and support” Phillips says.
So where does the WCGA fit in?
Structurally, the WGA and PCC are more “political” than the WCGA, and can adapt and move on hot issues as they arise more easily than the WCGA. Dealing with Japanese tsunami debris is a good example. This sudden event created an immediate need for response, and the higher level structure of the PCC versus the on-the-ground work plan based structure of the WCGA makes the PCC more nimble, albeit less “tangible” in ways. The WCGA is structured with an Executive Committee and actions are carried out by Action Coordination Teams. Work plans are developed and executed on around a four year timeline (there has not been an update to the Action plan since 2008). The PCC works more towards adopting resolutions, promoting issues through state-specific actions, and elevating conversations to a larger regional scale than the WCGA. The WCGA works towards more tangible outcomes, like the eradication of Spartina along the West coast, which is a long term initiative requiring on-the-ground actions to complete the goal.
Additionally, only a section of the PCC’s highlighted priorities deal with ocean issues, while the WCGA focuses exclusively on ocean health. The depth and detail of issues related to ocean health is articulated in the WCGA Action plan – a much “higher level” vision is provided by the PCC.
It’s important to note that no group supersedes the other: they work together to ensure that important issues for western states get the attention they deserve. Both groups highlight the power of partnerships and the commitment to healthy oceans and coastal communities by the region’s governments.
“Just because two different leadership groups raise the same issue, that doesn’t mean there is some problem with overlapping jurisdictions, rather it means the issue is getting broader attention. This works well as long as the work is done efficiently, and we don’t duplicate efforts.” Keith explains.
One thing is clear: there is no shortage of good work being done on the west coast to protect and sustain our oceans and coastal resources.