Should we protect and restore our oceans so that we can swim, fish, enjoy and use our oceans and coasts now and for generations to come? Or should we let our beaches and oceans become more polluted, our ocean wildlife depleted and industrial uses of the ocean occur in a haphazard way? The choice seems clear and our nation’s new National Ocean Policy charts the right course forward. Yet it is currently under misguided attack by some.
In an October 4th hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources, some witnesses tried to discredit the new National Ocean Policy. There's another hearing today at which Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, will defend the policy.
The very title of the House hearings -- "The President’s New National Ocean Policy: A Plan for Further Restrictions on Ocean, Coastal and Inland Activities” -- is grossly misleading, a bald attempt to derail the best-laid plans to date, when it comes to America’s oceans. Done right, the National Ocean Policy would protect our oceans for everyone.
At present, there are no fewer than 140 laws and 20 agencies that govern our seas, each with its own agendas and mandates. Such piecemeal governance is unwieldy and fails to effectively address many of the oceans’ problems, like plastic pollution, loss of valuable fish habitats, ailing corals and endangered marine mammals.
The U.S.’s marine area is larger than its land area and our ocean economy -- including tourism, recreation and fishing -- is more robust than the U.S. farm sector. We’re dependent on the ocean for food, jobs, recreation and for sustaining our life on Earth. We need to plan for its sustainable use and protection.
The National Ocean Policy created by President Obama calls for an ocean planning process in which federal agencies work closely with each other, and with states, to draw up guidelines for marine development, region by region. As the demands on our oceans rapidly multiply, sound planning will prevent reckless use of our seas, or “ocean sprawl.”
Opponents of the National Ocean Policy wrongly claim that it would create more bureaucracy. Actually, the National Ocean Policy will make the current bureaucratic maze more efficient. As Jim Lanard, President of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, testified at the October 4 hearing, “Better plans lead to road maps that can guide current and future users of the oceans about how to best achieve their business plans... [it] will help industry by providing us with more certainty about the rules of the road. Certainty leads to the avoidance of conflicts, improves efficiencies and minimizes competing uses.”
Healthy oceans and a strong ocean economy depend on smart planning. That’s what the National Ocean Policy will deliver and that’s why it needs our support.
This post was first published on NRDC's Switchboard blog.