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Sarah Chasis’s Blog

Heading to Rhode Island Tomorrow in Support of a National Oceans Policy

Sarah Chasis

Posted September 23, 2009 in Reviving the World's Oceans

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After getting our first glimpse last week of the details of what the Obama Administration is proposing for a national oceans policy (Interim Report issued 9/17), I'm heading to Providence, Rhode Island, this Thursday to testify at the only public hearing on the East Coast to let the federal government know what I think of their recommendations. My colleague Alison Chase, policy analyst in the oceans team here at NRDC, will join me (see what she'll be saying here).

The Obama Administration is in the process of holding several public hearings around the country to allow Americans to weigh in as they make environmental history. The ocean taskforce has already made trips to Alaska & San Francisco. Now we'll get our turn.

In my testimony, I'll be sharing my thoughts about the proposals (they look great) and letting them know how the East Coast would benefit if they follow through and make this policy official.

Background: If adopted, the proposals in the report released last week will guide the government's actions across a wide range of ocean and Great Lakes issues. From overfishing and pollution to warming temperatures and acidification, a national ocean policy and plan of action will strengthen the government's ability to tackle each and every one of these challenges. And it helps us be smart about the way we use our ocean resources. Right now, our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes are governed by more than 140 laws and 20 different agencies, each with different goals and often conflicting mandates. We cannot continue to let chaos manage the way we rule our seas -- this policy will help restore order.

This concept can be hard to grasp, because it's a policy change that has wide-ranging benefits across the board when it comes to protecting the health of our seas. Like a Clean Air Act for our air, and a Clean Water Act for our water, a national ocean policy will take the same sort of action for our oceans. In my last post I took a look at a few nationwide examples of ocean issues a national policy will help better address, such as acidification and overfishing.

Now, let's look a little more regionally at how a policy like this will affect the future of the Northeast Atlantic when it comes to offshore renewable energy. We know there is great potential for offshore wind development in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean. As we move forward in developing the clean renewable energy off our coasts that will repower America, we must do it right the first time. By using a process called marine spatial planning, we can plan ahead -- we can identify what areas of the ocean make sense for what industrial uses, and what sensitive areas should be set off-limits. Fortunately, the Administration has expressed great interest in using this process as part of a National Ocean Policy. In New York, Cornell scientists have recently discovered the paths whales are using to travel up and down New York's shorelines, revealing endangered whales are swimming just off New York Harbor, sometimes as close as 10 miles from Times Square. As we develop clean, renewable energy off our coasts, a national policy will help us take such precautions as putting wind turbines outside of the whales' path.

A national policy also has regional economic benefits for coastal states because healthy oceans contribute to a healthy economy. In fact, the oceans contribute more jobs and economic output to the U.S. economy than the entire farm sector ($230 billion of the country's GDP every year). Fishing, seafood, wildlife watching, and tourism industries all depend on the health of the sea. In New York State, for instance, more than 350,000 jobs -- in fishing, seafood markets, boat and ship building, and tourism -- and $11.5 billion in wages for employees relied on New York's oceans in 2004. The oceans made up $24.6 billion of the state's GDP in the same year. And when the ocean suffers, so does the economy. Beach closings on Long Island cost New York State $60 million in 2007 and were largely caused by stormwater runoff that made water too dirty for swimming. The state has also seen severe declines in fish and shellfish populations, including some of the most valuable species caught in New York.

A national ocean policy will help New York, the East Coast and the entire country better address ALL of these issues that affect its ocean AND its Great Lakes resources -- from cleaning up beachwater so you get fewer closings due to pollution, to stopping overfishing, protecting our ocean economy, and helping us develop clean energy off our shores the right way.

Join me in letting President Obama know we support what his taskforce has proposed, and want to see the recommendations made official!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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