Obama launches new national policy to strengthen management of oceans

By Julie Pace, AP
Monday, July 19, 2010

Obama launches policy to protect oceans

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Monday announced a new national policy for strengthening the way the U.S. manages its oceans and coasts, and the Great Lakes.

Officials said the framework is needed now more than ever following the massive Gulf oil spill.

The policy calls for the creation of a new National Ocean Council that will coordinate the work of the many federal agencies involved in conservation and marine planning. But it creates no new restrictions or regulations, and is not expected to have any short-term effect on offshore oil drilling.

Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the new policy recognizes that use of the ocean is expanding at a rate that challenges the ability to manage competing demands.

Among the central tenets of the policy is a zoning process that confines certain recreational and commercial activities to designated areas, known as marine spatial planning. Proponents of the process say it will help balance and manage competing uses of the oceans.

The zoning would be overseen by new regional organizations, with final approval coming from the National Ocean Council.

The policy is based on final recommendations from the two dozen senior policy experts from across the government named to the Ocean Policy Task Force Obama established last year. The president signed an executive order adopting the recommendations Monday.

While marine spatial planning could ultimately affect offshore drilling, administration officials said any changes would be in line with the findings of a presidential commission investigating the causes of the Gulf oil spill.

The administration imposed a moratorium on deep-water offshore drilling pending the outcome of the commission. That moratorium was later revised after courts struck down the original as heavy-handed.

Some environmental advocates praised the national oceans policy as an important step in promoting a healthy environment.

“Coastal and marine spatial planning will allow for more transparent decisions about how to manage conflicting uses while maintaining and restoring the health of the ocean,” said Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of Ocean Conservancy, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

But the National Ocean Policy Coalition, representing energy and other business interests, said it’s worried the recommendations could end up restricting some activities and lead to unintended economic consequences.

On the Web:

National Ocean Policy Coalition: www.oceanpolicy.com

Ocean Conservancy: www.oceanconservancy.org

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