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    Tuesday, September 29, 2009


    Obama’s ocean task force releases report; Sweeping changes could affect the United States' management of oceans, including offshore energy development.
    Mark Clayton, September 17, 2009 (Christian Science Monitor)

    The Interim Report Of The Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, published September 10 by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), moves forward the new and progressive approach to the development of offshore and hydrokinetic energies that the Obama administration brought with it to office.

    The required 90-day progress report’s vision statement articulates the double-edged hope of protecting the oceans, coasts and Great Lakes while developing their resource potential: “Vision: An America whose stewardship ensures that the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes are healthy and resilient, safe and productive, and understood and treasured so as to promote the well-being, prosperity, and security of present and future generations.”

    In order to effect the political momentum necessary to overcome partisan and special interest divisions, the Obama Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Departments of Energy (DOE) and Interior (DOI) and Interior’s Minerals Management Services (MMS) seem bound to permit the misguided pursuit and exploitation of the insignificant oil and gas reserves in the U.S. outer continental shelf (OCS) so as to further the development of massive offshore wind and ocean wave, current and tidal resources.

    click to enlarge

    It would be hard to find anything to object to in this early, interim and general report on ocean, coastal and Great Lakes protection and development. It is long on noble principles and good intentions and short on details.

    The Task Force's most concrete proposal so far is the establishment of a National Ocean Council (NOC) to manage these matters going forward.

    The report incorporates concerns obtained in regional colloquies with concerned Federal, State, tribal, and regional representatives, scientists, legal and policy experts, and the public and announces another series of such meetings. With a wealth of concerns by engaged players on record, the Task Force is clear about how to steer clear of controversy. In a sense, that is its great strength. It seems set on keeping the process going forward.

    click to enlarge

    Besides DOI, DOE and MMS, the Task Force includes representatives of the Office of the Joint Chiefs, the Coast Guard, the Navy, the Departments of Defense (DoD), Justice DoJ) and Transportation (DOT), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Office of the Vice President and, in all, a full 24 federal agencies.

    While the Task Force's proposal to establish a National Ocean Council (NOC) might seem like putting just another brick in the bureacratic wall, it might be an good idea to streamline this interim board of entanglements as soon as possible. It is a tribute to the leaders of the Task Force and to the Obama administration's commitment to ocean energy that the process continues moving ahead.

    The key themes identified so far include:
    (1) Setting ecosystem management as a guiding principle and being adaptive to regional ecosystem needs;
    (2) Applying science-based decision-making and using financial resources to obtain ecosystem-based science that draws on observation and research to inform on links between ecosystem health, human health, economic opportunity, national and homeland security, social justice, and environmental change (including climate change);
    (3) Improving coordination and collaboration between Federal, State, tribal, regional and local governance with transparency and public participation (while avoiding new bureaucracy and unnecessary costs);
    (4) Extending formal and informal education about the ocean, coasts, and the Great Lakes;
    (5) Ensuring funding; and
    (6) Joining the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention.

    click to enlarge

    The elements so far determined to be necessary in “National Policy, Policy Coordination Framework, and Implementation Strategy” for “the Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes” are:
    (1) A comprehensive vision of what an ocean, coasts and Great Lakes policy should achieve;
    (2) A statement of the value of the ocean, coasts and Great Lakes, the issues involved in development and the urgency of getting to work developing them;
    (3) A clear statement of National Policy; and
    (4) Guiding principles for management;

    The goals of such a clearly stated policy are: (1) a comprehensive national approach to stewardship; (2) accountability; and (3) a model of balanced, productive, efficient, sustainable, and informed ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes use, management, and conservation.

    click to enlarge

    To achieve its goals, the report found it will be necessary to:
    (1) State clearly the policy and the national priorities;
    (2) Designate the source of authority for implementation;
    (3) Obtain senior government level participation and participation from the full spectrum of involved agencies and departments;
    (4) Inextricably link development management and science;
    (5) Sustain clear engagement of regional, state, tribal, and local authorities and on-going responses to all issues; and
    (6) Coordinate development with executive branch policy makers.

    click to enlarge

    Going forward, the Task Force authors of the paper want:
    (1) Consolidation of development in a single National Ocean Council (NOC) with a Principal, Deputies and a structured management;
    (2) A strong “decision-making and dispute-resolution” NOC structure;
    (3) An Advisory Committee to engage with regional, state, tribal and local authorities;
    (4) A stronger link between science and the NOC; and
    (5) Strong coordination between the NOC, the National Security Council, the National Economic Council, the Office of Energy and Climate Change, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, and other White House entities.

    click to enlarge

    The strategy for implementation is only beginning to form. It will be the work of the NOC in the context described by the Task Force in this paper. It identifies 9 priority objectives that should be included into the National Policy for ocean, coastal and Great Lakes development.
    (1) Ecosystem-based management;
    (2) Space planning for the coasts and the waters;
    (3) Ongoing information and understanding as the basis for decision-making;
    (4) Ongoing coordination between federal, regional, state, tribal and local leaders and support for integrating them into the development, decision-making and problem-solving process.
    (5) Adaptation and response to climate change phenomena and ocean acidification;
    (6) Protection and restoration of regional ecosystems;
    (7) Protection and sustenance of water quality;
    (8) Addressing the changing Arctic conditions; and
    (9) Ongoing vigilant observation through technological record-keeping and data collection and analysis of the oceans, coasts and Great Lakes.

    There are wave, tidal, current, thermal gradient and salinity gradient ocean energy technologies. (click to enlarge)

    The report steers clear of conclusions on where and how to develop oil and gas resources or what the rules for Arctic exploration and exploitation should be or how specifically to site wind and wave installations at sea. It also gives no real guidance for locating desalination plants, fish farms or liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. It does not reconcile military needs with commercial shipping and the fisheries and recreation industries. It does not address the dead zones in the Gulf, the overfishing of deep waters or threatened wetlands.

    For the time being, that is probably not entirely bad because it means the Task Force has steered clear of sticking points.

    Although riddled with bureaucratic-ese, the report is a meta-breakthrough. Stepping back from what seems like an agonizingly methodical bureaucratic process, what can be seen is an exciting indication that the Obama folks are, after years of dawdling by the previous administration, keeping on track the necessary measures to unlock a huge, untapped portion of the nation’s New Energy resources.

    Offshore oil drilling rigs. (click to enlarge)

    - From the interim report: “The National Policy recognizes 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.”
    - Nancy Sutley, Chair, Whitehous Council on Environmental Quality: “[The proposal is] a more balanced, productive, and sustainable approach to using managing and conserving ocean resources…[and] a comprehensive national approach to uphold our stewardship responsibilities and ensure accountability for our actions.”
    - Sarah Chasis, director of the ocean initiative, Natural Resources Defense Council: “This will be the first time we have ever had this kind of action for healthy oceans from any president in US history…[and the] most progressive, comprehensive national action for our oceans that we have ever seen.”

    Offshore wind is a powerful untapped U.S. resource. (click to enlarge)

    - Laurie Jodziewicz, manager of siting policy, American Wind Energy Association: “The one concern we have is we don’t want to stop the momentum of offshore wind projects we’re already seeing. So while we’re certainly not opposed to marine spatial planning, we would like to see projects already in the pipeline move ahead and start getting some offshore projects going in the US.”
    - Andrew Rosenberg, professor of natural resources, University of New Hampshire: “We have been managing bits and pieces of the ocean for a long time, but while some good has been done on pollution and resource management, it hasn’t been sufficient…This policy shift comes at a critical time for our oceans for so many reasons.”


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