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President to make environmental history today with national ocean policy

Sarah Chasis

Posted July 19, 2010

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According to press reports, today will go down in environmental history for landmark progress toward ocean protection. In my 36 years of environmental policy work, there are few moments in my book that rise to today’s level of importance.

We have the Clean Water Act for our water and the Clean Air Act for our air. Finally, we will now have a bedrock environmental policy like this for our oceans.

President Obama, who hails from the ocean state of Hawaii and the Great Lakes state of Illinois, is expected to announce a revamping ofthe way we protect our oceans. This is something ocean advocates like me have been working toward for years.

This national ocean policy would coordinate efforts to reduce pollution and protect marine life, so that beaches are clean and fish and wildlife abundant. It will help federal agencies better protect, maintain and restore ocean ecosystems, and it establishes a National Ocean Council to help oversee the policy’s implementation, including the development of specific action plans to address priority issues.

Thanks to this new policy, the more than 20 different federal agencies that oversee activities affecting the sea (which are are governed by more than 140 laws), will now have to coordinate their efforts to ensure protection of the oceans. If you ask, I’d bet most Americans understandably think a basic policy like this already exists – just as so many believed companies knew how to safely drill off our shores. But it didn’t – until today.

And this new policy is more important now than ever. On top of the catastrophe in the Gulf and traditional stresses on our seas – like nutrient pollution, overfishing and unwise coastal development – today we are facing new, daunting challenges. Increased carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere are making the waters more acidic, threatening serious implications for the entire ocean food chain, including commercially important seafood. And just like a healthy person is better able to handle an illness, a healthy ocean is better able to withstand additional stress. With better management, comes healthier ocean life. This policy is the prescription America’s seas need to withstand the challenges, old and new, that they face.

This national ocean policy is important not just from an environmental standpoint but from an economic standpoint. The U.S. ocean economy provides more jobs and more economic output than the entire farm sector. A majority of this value is attributable to tourism and recreation, which in 2004 contributed more than $116 billion to the nation’s GDP and was responsible for more than 2 million jobs.  As the disaster in the Gulf has illustrated all too clearly, this economy depends to a significant degree on clean water and abundant fish and wildlife. America’s ocean industry needs the kind of security a healthy ocean policy can provide. Protecting our oceans means protecting money and jobs nationwide.

As our country tries to ensure an environmental and economic tragedy like the Gulf oil disaster never happens again, we must move toward a clean energy economy. As we look to renewable American power sources that can’t spill or run out – like offshore wind – this new policy will prove all the more important. It provides the tools we need to get clean, offshore energy up and running – while at the same time making sure we protect the ocean environment.

And though the timing of this policy is proving critical, it has actually been in the works for more than a year. A presidentially appointed taskforce of senior representatives from the different federal agencies with ocean responsibilities made initial recommendations for what this policy should look like. Their recommendations followed an inclusive and transparent process that included extensive input from stakeholders, experts and public hearings around the country. In fact, the taskforce’s draft recommendations received extensive comments from the public, all levels of government, business interests, the fishing community and conservation groups, and makes sure the federal agencies are working with coastal states to build on existing efforts at protection.

In sum – this policy is desperately needed. President Obama is charting the course for healthy American seas and a healthy American ocean economy.

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KateJul 19 2010 05:46 PM

A "policy". Isn't that more like an "executive order" which expresses an opinion on how things should be, but isn't a law or enforceable like the Clean Water Act or Clean Air Act? Policies can change with every administration. I hope this will be effective, but am somewhat skeptical.

Brian DonovanJul 19 2010 06:15 PM

“President Obama is charting the course for healthy American seas and a healthy American ocean economy."

Does this include the Gulf of Mexico?

For a better understanding of the course taken by President Obama in the handling of the BP oil gusher, visit:

Kathryn AtkinsJul 19 2010 08:54 PM

This is wonderful news. I do hope this will extend to finding ways to clean up the sea of plastic. The "International Waters" has governed a "not -my-responsibility" and non-action in taking care of it’s health. But it is ours --- it's everyone's responsibility if we want to keep living in our biosphere... Now let's get Gov.Schwarzenegger to start putting back the money he took from cleaning the waste waters that pour into the oceans on the west coast.

Jerry MayeuxJul 20 2010 06:37 AM

Consider the Connection to:
Environmental Communication
Great post, Sarah Chasis Jerry Lee Mayeux

KEMAL BURKAYJul 20 2010 07:16 AM

This is really wonderful news... I am scientist physicist, already developed giant technology; AIR POLLUTION CONTROL TECHNOLOGY and DRINKING QUALITY WATER FROM OCEAN....

prime details in my company's website... I hope Mr. President and Gov. Schwarzenegger can see this and support me... regards, Kemal Burkay, salisbury NC

Mike HudsonJul 20 2010 12:46 PM

I would be more thrilled if we had a "National Land Use Policy", because other than drilling for oil, it's what we do on land that has the greatest impacts on our oceans.We don't sail out to the ocean to discard our plastics, we don't sail out to dispose of our toxic run-off, we don't sail out to produce carbon emissions that acidify the waters - we do ALL these things on land. If this new policy at least stops offshore drilling, I'm all for it - but I'm not holding my breath.

Ron PokrakJul 20 2010 01:51 PM

I continue to wonder if the guy is serious on the environment or not... His appointments to the Dep of Agriculture sure make a person wonder. ALL are the worst of the worst from the chemical industry... Agricultural runoff kills an area the size of NJ each year in the gulf...

Which is the DEM's priority? The environment or the campaign contributions... Now that Monsanto and Dupont run the DOA, who is watching the water?. Who is controlling organics?

ComeOnJul 22 2010 12:27 PM

"will now have to coordinate their efforts to ensure protection of the oceans."

Are you talking about the same coordination effort that is the "Gulf Oil Spill Response?" Are ideological or delusional? Maybe a delusional ideologue.

Creating a new level of bureaucracy to oversee an already bloated government doesn't seem very rational to me. If they think appointing every head of every executive office to one "counsel" to work toward a common goal and come up with some kind of coherent solution then they are delusional. We already now that they are ideologues.

So I guess I just answered my own question. Takes one to know one. Two peas in a pod. Take your pick. This is just another power grab. I would like to see a press conference with this "counsel" and one microphone. There would be so many elbows thrown for position, It would look like a WWE smackdown.

T WuJul 22 2010 10:48 PM

@Ron- I completely agree. I think it's interesting that Obama's been so lackluster in his response. And his firing round on the energy legislation was to come out in favor of deep oil drilling, nukes, and *cough* bull-sh*t "clean" coal. As if everything is just politics, nothing is non-negotiable when it comes to the environment: would he be willing to dam Yosemite Valley if it'd get him a few GOP votes?

The more interesting thing however is that he got his legs once he was able to connect with the economic disaster suffered by the residents of the gulf who depend on its fisheries for their livelihoods. His rhetoric can soar for the 3rd generation fisherman who's lost everything; but for something a bit more abstract, but more familiar to mainstream environmentalists, i.e., protecting the environment for its own sake, he seems to be out of his comfort zone.

Like Clinton (who also came from modest means), he doesn't have an "american" relationship with wilderness. You've got Carter with his ear to ear grin as he whitewater canoes some rapid; you've got Reagan chopping wood and horseback riding his ranch; you've got the Bushes sailing in Maine or clearing brush in Texas.

And yet, if he's able to help make the transformation of the environmental movement from being largely in the purview of upper middle class educated and typically white Americans to a broader movement, that would be a great thing indeed. But I'm not holding my breath.

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