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January 2011 Issue

A New Future for the Ocean:
America's First National Ocean Policy

By Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.)
House Oceans Caucus
U.S. House of Representatives
Twelve months ago on these pages I wrote that 2009 was a watershed year for ocean management policy and that we needed to build on that momentum in 2010. Did we ever.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order on July 19 creating the nation's first-ever National Ocean Policy. The executive order set forth a comprehensive plan for the future use, management, conservation and sustainability of our most precious resource.

The executive order incorporates the final recommendations of the White House Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, a team convened in June 2009 by the president and tasked with recommending a national ocean policy—along with guidance for implementing that policy—as well as a framework for coastal and marine spatial planning.

Many of the provisions in the president's executive order, which now has the power of law, mirror the National Ocean Policy and governance provisions of my own Oceans-21 legislation—a bill I have been championing in Congress for almost a decade.

I am proud to see so much movement on overhauling our ocean management strategies. One problem, which we continue to work to address, is that an executive order is guaranteed to only last as long the president who signs it. It remains imperative that we work out a legislative solution that can't be negated on the whim of a new president.

Of course, 2010 wasn't all rosy.

The Gulf Oil Spill
In April, BP's Deepwater Horizon explosion in the gulf of Mexico drew the nation's attention, showing us just how devastating the human hand can be to the ocean. The disaster was the largest oil spill in America's history.

Nearly five million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf over a period of three months. The well is now capped, but the full scale of damage to the marine environment is unknown. There is no question that impacts will be felt for years.

But Congress didn't sit idly by. On July 30, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources Act, known as the CLEAR Act. The CLEAR Act makes necessary reforms required to get the nation's oil and gas industry back on track. Importantly, the legislation includes reforms needed for the health and sustainability of our ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources. Of particular note, the CLEAR Act contains my Oceans-21 legislation's provisions for regional planning and coordination for protecting our nation's ocean resources.

CLEAR Act Details
Like Oceans-21, the CLEAR Act creates nine ocean and coastal regions. The nine regions will form regional councils that will be required to complete initial assessments and final strategic plans that set the standards and guidelines on how the nation should use, maintain and manage our respective ocean and coastal resources.

Regionally based planning would consolidate and streamline national ocean management and promote ecosystem-based, regional ocean governance. The provisions of the bill provide a framework for improving interactions between existing government agencies and reducing duplicative government spending while allowing for federal, state and local governments to use our national ocean resources wisely.

The CLEAR Act also contains a provision that will create a new trust fund for ocean and coastal resources. A fund for the ocean has been recommended for years by leading voices in ocean management, including the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, the Pew Oceans Commission and my Oceans-21 legislation.

Finally, funds raised from drilling in our ocean will now go toward protecting and improving our ocean. We generate a great deal of revenue and benefits from the ocean. The 43 million acres leased on the Outer Continental Shelf account for 15 percent of domestic natural gas production and 27 percent of domestic oil production. The 30 coastal and Great Lakes states represent $11.4 trillion of the nation's gross domestic product and 83 percent of the nation's output.

However, we reinvest only a fraction of what we receive back into those resources. Human and environmental health and the coastal economy will continue to decline until we make a significant investment in these resources.

Oceans-21 was written to provide the mechanisms needed to establish better coordination, collaboration, funding and research to protect, conserve and sustainably manage our essential ocean and coastal resources, and I'm proud that it has served as a model for this year's triumphs.

A Call for Action
As I write this, we're still waiting for the U.S. Senate to step up to the plate and pass its own version of the CLEAR Act. While I'm delighted the House finally took action to protect ocean health—just as we've done in the past for clean air and clean water—our work won't be done until the Senate takes action and the bill is signed by the president.

It's time we support the president and his recently enacted National Ocean Policy. It's time we do our part legislatively by enacting strong policies and regulations for our ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources.

The gulf oil spill has shown us that we need to protect ocean health. Watching events unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, we have witnessed firsthand what I call 'the conflict of the seas.' With a regionalized, well-managed, well-coordinated and well-funded group of actors, responding to future ocean issues will be organized and effective for generations to come.

This past year has marked a new beginning for our ocean and coastal resources. But the work has only just begun. Though we faced an ocean tragedy in 2010, we celebrate the president's commitment to ocean health and cheer for the long overdue efforts of Congress. But most importantly, we must continue this momentum: The future of ocean and coastal health must start today.

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