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West Coast governors are working to arrange a meeting with senior officials in the White House and federal agencies to push for more spending on research into ocean acidification, an initiative championed by former first lady Cylvia Hayes.

SALEM — Cylvia Hayes is no longer first lady, but many of the policies she pushed remain intact as top state priorities, including work on ocean acidification.

West Coast governors are working to arrange a meeting with senior officials in the White House and federal agencies to push for more spending on research into the problem, which has hit the region’s shellfish industry. The world’s oceans absorb an increasing amount of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, and that corrosive water can prevent oyster and clam larvae from developing shells.

Congress and President Barack Obama have recently increased spending on research into the issue, and Oregon and West Coast states want a larger piece of it.

The high-level meeting on ocean acidification research was supposed to occur this spring, but might not happen until later this year. Gabriela Goldfarb, natural resources policy adviser to Gov. Kate Brown, said she was confident the meeting will still take place despite the departure of Hayes, who made ocean health one of her official initiatives and planned to participate in the meeting.

Hayes’ fiance Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned in February amid criminal investigations into allegations the couple engaged in influence peddling. Hayes signed private contracts worth more than $220,000 to work on policy issues on which she advised the governor. Under one contract, Hayes was hired to raise awareness of ocean acidification.

Although Hayes’ dual role raises ethics and legal questions, Goldfarb said the effects of ocean acidification are truly a problem for the shellfish industry. Scientists at Oregon State University published research in 2012 that linked the phenomenon to a decline in oyster seed production at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Netarts Bay, and they published additional research earlier this year on the industry’s vulnerability to the problem.

Goldfarb said research has shown ocean acidification has a greater impact on the West Coast than other parts of the nation, and for that reason the federal government should direct a greater share of its research funding to Oregon, California and Washington. The three states and British Columbia have also signed an agreement to coordinate their own spending on research into the problem.

“Our main interest is having the federal government prioritize its investment of its scientific expertise and research and monitoring efforts on the West Coast, where scientists tell us ocean acidification is hitting earliest and hardest,” said Goldfarb, who also worked for Kitzhaber.

“We will definitely end up having someone come out from the White House Council on Environmental Quality,” Goldfarb said, adding that state officials could also travel to Washington, D.C. for the meeting if it’s necessary to accommodate administrators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In February 2013, Hayes signed a contract to work on ocean acidification issues for the environmental public relations firm Resource Media.

The contract called for Resource Media to pay Hayes $20,600 plus up to $5,300 in reimbursement of travel expenses for roughly two months of work, from Feb. 19 to April 30 2013. The true extent of her work for Resource Media is unclear because Hayes said the contract actually continued through Dec. 31, 2013. However, Hayes would not say whether the firm increased her compensation for the extended period of work.

This story first appeared in the Oregon Capital Insider newsletter. To subscribe, go to oregoncapitalinsider.com

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