The National Ocean Council finalized the first regional ocean plans today, marking a milestone in the Obama administration’s bid to map marine resources.
The plans cover the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Maine, with the aim of improving coordination among industry, government and the public over how best to use the ocean. They have the support of both Democrats and Republicans in the region, despite some GOP lawmakers characterizing the plans as a symptom of federal overreach.
Administration officials emphasized today that the plans were built on an unprecedented trove of data. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic data portals include maps on everything from marine wildlife abundance to shipping lines and discharge zones.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) called it a "terrific step" in a speech today at the Center for American Progress. He pointed to the Block Island Wind Farm — which will soon begin delivering electricity from off Rhode Island’s coast — as a "living example" of ocean planning’s success.
"It proves how efficient, inclusive, thorough ocean planning can actually accelerate investment and move projects to steel in the water more rapidly," Whitehouse said.
But the National Ocean Council faces potential challenges when President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month. Some Republican lawmakers assert that the plans "zone" the ocean. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), for example, has called them a "clever way to impose a web of federal layers of bureaucracy."
Whitehouse and others discussed potential roadblocks at a CAP panel today called "Ocean Governance in a New Administration." Their message: Ocean planning is nonpartisan and good for jobs and the economy.
Adm. Charles Michel, vice commandant of the Coast Guard, said his agency would "continue to press forward on this" no matter the administration. Planning out ocean uses, he argued, is necessary as climate change opens up waters in the Arctic and more businesses turn to the sea.
"I understand that all these executive orders may be scrubbed or whatever," he said. "From a Coast Guard perspective, these are enduring things. You know, they existed all the way back to the 2000 Oceans Act and even before then in the Coast Guard."
Whitehouse expressed similar optimism that the results from ocean planning will lead to positive perception in the public.
"It’s not a swamp of bureaucratic nonsense from which no person ever emerges," he said. "It actually makes the process much more efficient."
Ocean advocates have begun tailoring their message to Republican ideals, emphasizing the economic importance of the nation’s coasts and the jobs that can be created in ocean industries (Greenwire, Nov. 15).
Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) highlighted the plight of shellfish growers in his state, whose farms are threatened by an increasingly acidic ocean that prevents oysters from building their shells.
"There are 3,200 people in my region whose livelihood is tied to shellfish growers," Kilmer said. "That economic threat is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue if you care about jobs and care about the livelihood of folks tied to the region."
The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic plans finalized today include both economic and environmental commitments. In the Northeast, for example, federal agencies will use the plan for dredging and navigation projects, as well as to improve renewable energy outreach. In the Mid-Atlantic, the plan will be used, among other things, to support aquaculture permitting and environmental review of offshore sand mining.