White House issues National Ocean Policy draft

The White House’s National Ocean Council issued a National Ocean Policy draft on Jan. 12 that describes actions the federal government might take to address the most pressing challenges facing oceans and US coasts, as well as the Great Lakes.

The proposals focus on nine priority objectives, describe possible actions and their intended outcomes, outline key milestones, identify key agencies and other responsible entities, and list time frames. Comments will be accepted through Feb. 27.

The strategy is based on Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM), which the draft described as an integrated resource management approach that considers the entire ecosystem, including humans.

“It requires managing ecosystems as a whole instead of separately managing their individual components or uses, considers all the elements that are integral to ecosystem functions, and accounts for economic and social benefits as well as environmental stewardship concerns,” the ocean policy draft said.

Making progress on an EBM-centered management foundation can’t be accomplished by a single agency or the federal government alone, it continued. “But it will be done without creating new bureaucracy and without negative economic impacts, by improved incorporation and use of solid science, collaboration and efficiency in action, and a focus on regional issues and interests,” it said.

Proposed actions, goals

Proposed actions and goals include streamlining ocean and coastal permitting processes, improving water quality, providing climate change forecasts and vulnerability assessments for coastal communities, and improving environmental response management in the Arctic, according to the NOC.

“As melting sea ice enables increased access for shipping, tourism, and oil and gas development, federal agencies will work with state, local and international partners to develop coordinated response procedures for oil spills, marine accidents, or other incidents to protect people, communities and ecosystems from adverse impacts,” it said.

Implementing the plan is a major priority for the US Department of the Interior and its agencies, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar said in a separate statement on Jan. 12. The department’s agencies and bureaus—including the US Geological Survey, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and Bureau of Land Management—are actively involved in the interagency ocean policy taskforce, he noted.

National Ocean Industries Association Pres. Randall B. Luthi said the proposed goals were worthy of attention, but that certain aspects of the plan were of concern to NOIA’s members. “In particular, the use of Coastal Marine Spatial Planning may very well be a multilayered bureaucratic solution seeking a problem that doesn’t exist,” he suggested. “Thus, while we believe the overall idea of coordination has good merit, the devil will certainly be in the plan’s eventual implementation.”

Environmental group Oceana applauded the NOC’s draft policy implementation plan, particularly its recognition of the Arctic’s importance. “We don’t know enough about this remote region to make informed decisions about development,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s senior Pacific regional director. “This draft plan emphasizes the need for more science and better infrastructure to ensure that the Arctic people and environment are protected.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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