- The Obama administration is in the process of
developing a new policy on the nation’s oceans,
coastal areas and the Great Lakes, and its reach
may extend well inland.
According to a Sept. 10 report from an Obama-appointed
task force, "it is the policy of the United States
to...[b]olster the conservation and sustainable
uses of land in ways that will improve the health
of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems."
The new Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force –
established on June 12, 2009 -- held one of six
regional public hearings last week in Providence,
R.I., the Ocean State.
An administration official who attended last
Thursday's hearing was quoted as saying that ocean
stewardship is not a partisan issue. But a 38-page
interim report produced by the task force uses
liberal buzzwords and endorses liberal policy
Notably, the task force says it will rely on an
“ecosystem-based management” approach, which it
describes as a “fundamental shift” in policy.
'Social justice’ and ‘sustainability’
The phrase “social justice” is mentioned five
times in the
with no explanation of what that means in
connection with the oceans.
On page 5, for example, the task force says its
national policy should recognize “that America’s
stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the
Great Lakes is intrinsically and intimately linked
to environmental sustainability, human health and
well-being, national prosperity, adaptation to
climate and other environmental change, social
justice, foreign policy, and national and homeland
In all five references, the phrase “social
justice” is included in a similar list.
The task force also says a key goal of the new
policy is to “enhance water quality in the ocean,
along our coasts, and in the Great Lakes by
promoting and implementing sustainable practices
Later, the report explains that pollution “caused
by poor land management practices” is a leading
cause of water quality problems in the United
States: So is the growing U.S. population, it
“Runoff from suburban streets and lawns,
agricultural and industrial uses, transportation
activities, and urban development – even hundreds
of miles away – negatively impacts water quality,
resulting in deleterious effects on ocean,
coastal, and Great Lakes systems as evidenced by
harmful algal blooms, expansive dead zones, and
increased incidents of human illness,” the Sept.
10 report says.
“Demands on the ocean, our coasts, and the Great
Lakes are intensifying, spurred by population
growth, migration to coastal areas, and economic
More federal regulations?
The task force says the new national plan should
address the “major impacts of urban and suburban
development and agriculture, including forestry
and animal feedlots, on ocean, coastal, and Great
The plan also will seek recommendations on how to
“integrate and improve existing land-based
conservation and pollution programs,” and it calls
for the establishment of a “comprehensive
The phrase climate change appears in the interim
report some two dozen times.
“Climate change is impacting the ocean, our
coasts, and the Great Lakes,” the report says.
According to the task force, climate change
requires the nation to “address environmental
stewardship needs” in the Arctic Ocean, where
glaciers are melting, producing rising sea levels.
Science or no science: The
The interim report from President Obama’s new
Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force embraces
"science-based decision-making," but in one
paragraph, it says the lack of “scientific
certainty” will not deter action:
"Decisions affecting the ocean, our coasts, and
the Great Lakes should be informed by and
consistent with the best available science.
Decision-making will also be guided by a
precautionary approach as reflected in the Rio
Declaration of 1992 which states in pertinent
part, '[w]here there are threats of serious or
irreversible damage, lack of full scientific
certainty shall not be used as a reason for
postponing cost-effective measures to prevent
The task force endorses the United Nations’ Law of
the Sea treaty, which President Ronald Reagan
rejected and President Bush supported. Critics of
the United Nations treaty question its impact on
national sovereignty. What about oil drilling, wind power?
The Obama administration's task force notes that
the ocean is "a source of existing energy and
offers numerous opportunities for renewable
energy, which can help to secure our energy
independence and mitigate climate change."
But the report also says energy development will
place increasing demands on ocean, coastal and
Great Lakes ecosystems. "As these demands
increase, we must also preserve the abundant and
sustainable marine resources and healthy
ecosystems that are critical to the well-being and
continued prosperity of our Nation," the report
Decisions on how to manage the nation's oceans
will depend on "ecosystem-based management," the
report says, noting that such an approach would be
a major change:
"Embedding ecosystem-based management, grounded
in science, as an overarching principle would be a
fundamental shift in the traditional way the
Federal Government approaches management of the
ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes. It would
provide the opportunity to ensure proactive and
holistic approaches to balance the use and
conservation of these valuable resources.
"This broad-based application of ecosystem-based
management would provide a framework for the
management of our resources, and allow for such
benefits as helping to restore fish populations,
control invasive species, support healthy coastal
communities and ecosystems, restore sensitive
species and habitats, protect human health, and
rationally allow for emerging uses of the ocean,
including new energy production." (italics
Marine spatial planning’
The Obama-appointed task force first met on June
22, 2009. In the coming months, it will develop “a
recommended framework for effective coastal and
marine spatial planning.”
According to the United Nations Education,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO),
“marine spatial planning” involves decision-making
about human activities in marine areas to achieve
ecological, economic, and social objectives.
“Marine spatial planning is not an end in itself,
but a practical way to create and establish a more
rational use of marine space and the interactions
between its uses, to balance demands for
development with the need to protect the
environment, and to achieve social and economic
objectives in an open and planned way,” UNESCO
The Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force is
chaired by Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House
Council on Environmental Quality.
The next public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 29