On April 16, 2013, Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, and John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chairs of the President’s National Ocean Council, released the Administration’s action plan (the “Plan”) for implementing the National Ocean Policy established under E.O. 13547. A copy of the Plan can be found at: www.whitehouse. gov/administration/eop/oceans/implementationplan.
The E.O. was issued in 2010, and the Administration has taken the past two or more years to develop a plan taking into account the views of multiple stakeholders. The final Plan does include responses to some of the major criticisms of the draft plan, e.g., who will regulate fishing? Does marine spatial planning entail any new regulations of ocean uses? Whether the responses satisfy the critics remains to be seen.
The Plan is very wide-ranging and addresses the interests of the following maritime sectors: commercial fishing; recreational fishing and boating; the ports and shipping community; coastal communities; aquaculture development; offshore oil and gas; offshore renewable energy; regional marine planning; and research and development of the Arctic. Most of the Plan addresses how the 27 interested federal agencies will work better together, and collect and disseminate a lot more oceanographic data. But, there are also a number of action items that are worth paying attention to.
Following are some of the important Plan highlights that the maritime community should be aware of. In the commercial fishing sector, the Plan makes clear that regulation of commercial fishing will continue to be managed exclusively by the state and federal fisheries managers and the Regional Fishery Management Councils. (This had been a bone of contention in the draft implementation plan and the final Plan attempts to clarify this situation.) On specific action items, Federal agencies have committed in the Plan to protect, restore, or enhance 100,000 acres of wetlands, and conduct research on stressors on the coast such as climate change. (The Plan acknowledges the existence of climate change and its potential serious impact on coastal communities.)
In the aquaculture sector, federal agencies have committed to streamline and reduce duplication of permitting efforts, establish an interagency aquaculture initiative to support jobs and innovation, and develop pilot projects through the National Shellfish Initiative to maximize the commercial value of shellfish aquaculture.
For the offshore oil and gas sector, the Plan focuses on providing more accurate charts for safe and efficient navigation, collecting data and information to identify suitable sites for development, and conducting further port access route studies (“PARS”). The Plan also addresses steps the Administration will take in the Arctic, described below.
In the offshore renewable energy sector, the Administration commits to improving access to data on climate, water, wind, and weather; providing models of seasonal and extreme weather conditions; and developing analyses of how new ocean uses can contribute to the economies of the local communities and regions. Unfortunately, the Plan makes no mention of streamlining the rather cumbersome process for leasing offshore wind farms.
For the shipping and ports sector, the Plan also intends to provide more accurate charts for navigation; undertake more PARS studies; improve predictions about sea level rise; and provide better weather forecasting for the Arctic.
For coastal communities, such as those hard hit by Hurricane Sandy, the Administration commits to sharing more and better data about severe storms and sea-level rise; working on improving flood insurance maps; and providing guidance to waterfront property owners on responsible management options for shoreline erosion. In this area, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seems up to the task of providing better, more timely information to coastal communities, recognizing that Sandy may not be the last of these mega-storms to hit our coasts.
Another area of contention in the Ocean Policy and draft plan was the concept of marine spatial planning. Many conservative critics objected to the term and decreed that it would only add layers of new regulations to existing regulations affecting the maritime industry. As a result, the final Plan softens the term to “marine planning”, while announcing that the entire planning process is voluntary and only those regions that choose to participate will have to do so. The Plan also states definitively that “[n]either the National Ocean Policy nor marine planning creates or changes [existing] regulations or authorities.” At the same time, the Plan cites several examples where marine planning has been effective, e.g., the State of Rhode Island has identified key resources and uses, such as fishing and military needs, so that offshore wind energy can be sited in the best places with the least conflict.
Another important area of focus in the Plan that is addressed in several sections is the Arctic. Several federal interests and objectives are identified for the Arctic, including establishing and strengthening partnerships with industry (e.g., oil companies and ship operators), other governments, and Alaska Native organizations to develop new Arctic communications capabilities; improving oil spill prevention, containment, and response plans and technology for use in ice-covered Arctic areas; completing an integrated dataset to populate an Arctic oil spill planning, coordination, and response tool; and identifying options to minimize and/or mitigate the risks associated with vessel use and carriage of heavy-grade fuel in the Arctic.
From a policy perspective, the Plan also proposes the development of materials to support a U.S. submission on the Extended Continental Shelf delimitation in Arctic waters. The Plan does not address how the U.S. will manage this submission when it only has an observer seat at the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, established under Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which the U.S. is not a party.
A cross-cutting objective in the Plan is to share data and information among federal agencies and with users on its ocean data portal: www.data.gov/ocean/community/ocean. Another stated objective is to improve the federal permitting process to save time and money for ocean-based industries and taxpayers. Improved permitting for aquaculture is specifically highlighted, but it is not discussed in other uses of the ocean and coastal waters, such as the energy sectors.
In sum, the Plan is quite comprehensive in that it touches upon all sectors that occupy a place in our maritime world. It is also accompanied by an Appendix with a calendar of all the action items, as well as a list of the various federal agencies, that will implement the Plan between now and 2017. A budget line item for implementing the recommendations has not been submitted by the Administration in its FY2014 budget request, so it remains to be seen how successfully the coordinated action items can be carried out and whether Congress will provide the necessary funding in this time of budget constraint.