As the Biden administration and 117th Congress hit the ground running, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and our outdoor recreation partners are keeping pace to support a growing recreation economy. President Biden is focused on his Build Back Better plan, which prioritizes economic recovery while modernizing infrastructure and combating climate change. If what we’ve witnessed during the past year serves as any indication, the recreational boating industry and outdoor recreation industry are well-equipped to help make these outcomes possible.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the outdoor recreation industry was a powerful economic engine, accounting for 2.1 percent of total U.S. gross domestic product, $788 billion in economic output, and 5.2 million American jobs. In the months that followed widespread lockdowns, our industry grew even more as Americans flocked to the outdoors. The industry witnessed record levels of boat buyers, selling more boats in 2020 than in any of the previous 13 years. These new levels of demand brought a lifeline to local businesses and regional economies. This trend is likely to continue, making outdoor recreation a prominent player in the nation’s long-term economic recovery.
As the senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the NMMA, I can attest that our advocacy efforts have taken on a renewed sense of urgency throughout the pandemic. More recently, the changing political landscape has also presented new opportunities and challenges, and further reinforced the importance of alignment with our member industry stakeholders to develop an advocacy agenda that conforms to the political realities of the moment.
Addressing the emerging challenges from Covid-19 remains a primary emphasis of the NMMA’s advocacy work. As we move toward recovery, one of the main ways to support our nation’s economy is through bolstering our infrastructure as the new administration has outlined, ensuring that industries such as recreational boating continue to thrive and creating jobs in the process. One of the main ways we can modernize our Eisenhower-era recreation infrastructure is by working with Congress to pass a comprehensive, $2 trillion infrastructure plan to increase access points and improve safety for recreators.
Our nation’s outdoor infrastructure is in need of more than just updates to aging resources; it needs bolstered resilience to withstand the effects of climate change. The entire recreational boating community feels the impact of climate change, including rising sea levels, erosion, ocean acidification and severe depletion of fish stocks. This year, we will maintain our focus on supporting investments that strengthen resilience across the country and for key waterways, including Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes region and the Everglades.
The NMMA is prepared for more aggressive climate policies from the new administration and Congress. The association is putting a spotlight on the significant progress the boating industry has made to reduce its carbon footprint during the past 20 years. Since 2000, the industry has reduced emissions from marine engines by more than 90 percent and increased fuel efficiency by more than 40 percent. To support this progress, we are advocating for investments in next-generation marine propulsion and facility technology.
We are also building on decades’ worth of work with stakeholders at every level of government to advance policies that protect the environment. We continue to work toward reauthorizing and modernizing the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, as well as securing targeted funding to stop and reverse the spread of aquatic invasive species. As lawmakers explore 30x30 protections, the NMMA is working to ensure that reasonable and responsible access to recreation is maintained.
The recreational boating and fishing communities and local economies depend on healthy habitats. That’s why the NMMA is working with government and industry partners to restore critical marine ecosystems that balance healthy, sustainable fisheries with recreation access. Boaters and anglers must have a seat at the table on matters relating to access to fisheries and marine sanctuaries, so we are putting a renewed focus on highlighting how recreational fishing supports conservation.
As the broader business community looks for ways to become more sustainable in the 21st century and beyond, we are working with lawmakers to create a responsible regulatory environment that also allows marine manufacturers to continue innovating. Marine manufacturers are constantly making facilities more sustainable, including phasing out hydrofluorocarbons. Through continued work with government stakeholders, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and private industry partners, the industry is implementing cutting-edge technologies to develop biofuels such as biobutanol. In addition to our efforts to fix the Renewable Fuel Standard and educating consumers about ethanol blends; we are collaborating with lawmakers to study the impact of derelict vessels; and we are identifying solutions to recycle recreational vessels.
Marine manufacturing is a uniquely American industry, but manufacturers have been at the center of tit-for-tat trade wars and retaliatory tariffs. Especially as businesses work to recover during the pandemic, tariff payments exacerbate economic hardship. Building on our work with the previous administration, we are encouraging the new administration to collaborate with our allies to remove retaliatory tariffs on U.S. boats and other American products. We continue to advocate for policies that support American manufacturing, including tax credits and programs to expand research and development; the use of renewable power sources; and the creation of a small business grant program to help manufacturers bring jobs back to the United States.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the boating industry and the broader outdoor recreation community still managed to find opportunities and secure key advocacy victories. Building on the momentum of outdoor recreation’s growing popularity, the boating industry is poised to be a significant contributor to the goals of the new administration and Congress. As we build out our agenda for 2021, we are confident that we will continue delivering for the industry in the days, months and years ahead.
Nicole Vasilaros is senior vice president of government relations and legal affairs at the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue.