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Obama Administration’s New Policy on Oceans Keeps an Eye on Land


September 28, 2009 by Susan Jones, Senior Editor

  (CNSNews.com) - 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 positions.

 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 38-page report, 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 security.”

 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 on land.”
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 says:

“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 activities.”

 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 Lakes waters.”

 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 monitoring framework.”

Climate change

 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 'precautionary' approach

 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 environmental degradation.'"
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 says.

 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 added)

 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 says.

 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 in Hawaii.


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