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January 2013 Issue

National Ocean Policy Creates More Red Tape, Hurts Economy

By Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.)
Chairman, U.S. House Natural Resources Committee

The oceans are an integral part of the U.S. economy, supporting millions of jobs throughout the country. It is important to protect and properly manage the oceans through a balanced, multiuse approach that recognizes the need for both environmental stewardship and responsible use of resources. Unfortunately, President Barack Obama has imposed new regulations that counter this balanced approached to ocean management.

The administration's National Ocean Policy creates a massive new federal bureaucracy with unprecedented control over our oceans, Great Lakes, rivers and watersheds that could negatively impact nearly every sector of the U.S. economy in significant ways.

Additional Bureaucracy
President Obama enacted the National Ocean Policy by issuing an executive order, meaning this drastic change in ocean management was done without Congressional authorization. To date, no bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives to implement similar far-reaching ocean policies.

The executive order creates a web of bureaucracy that includes dozens of new policies, councils, committees, planning bodies, priority objectives, action plans, national goals and guiding principles. Rather than streamline federal management, the president's initiative will instead add layers of new red tape and create a top-down approach.

For example, federally-controlled regional planning bodies will be tasked with creating zoning plans for each region without input or representation from local stakeholders or affected industries. All relevant federal agencies, states and regulated communities will be bound by the plans, which will be used to make decisions on regional permitting activities.

Job and Economic Impacts
Although marketed as a common-sense plan to develop and protect our oceans, the National Ocean Policy will inflict economic harm and uncertainty on America's job creators. Imposing mandatory ocean zoning could place huge portions of our oceans and coasts off-limits, curtailing energy development, commercial fishing and recreational activities.

The reach of the policy goes beyond the oceans. It gives the regional planning bodies authority to regulate as far inland as necessary. This could impact all activities occurring on lands adjacent to rivers, tributaries or watersheds that drain into the ocean.

A multitude of industries could be affected, including agriculture, fishing, construction, manufacturing, mining, oil and natural gas, and renewable energy. These industries support tens of millions of jobs and contribute trillions of dollars to the U.S. economy.

The policy also involves vague and undefined objectives that would create uncertainty for businesses and job creators, and open the floodgates for litigation. According to testimony received by the House Natural Resources Committee, this uncertainty will likely increase costs to private landowners and businesses, cause companies to cut back on investment and job creation, and limit American energy production both on- and offshore.

It is also unclear how much this initiative will cost taxpayers, how it is being funded and if it will take money away from existing agency budgets at a time when budgets are already being cut.

Congressional Oversight
The House Natural Resources Committee held a series of oversight hearings to better understand the policy, but the Obama administration has failed to answer questions on the funding for this initiative, the breadth of its reach and the impact it will have on jobs, the economy and energy security.

This led to a bipartisan vote of the House in May to pause funding for the president's initiative until its job and economic impacts are known. This effort was supported by more than 80 organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Association of Homebuilders, American Forest & Paper Association and National Fisheries Institute.

Going Forward
The House Natural Resources Committee will continue conducting oversight on the implementation and impacts of the National Ocean Policy.

The administration can and should require executive agencies to work in a more coordinated manner, share information and reduce duplication. However, the initiative goes far beyond this common ground. Instead of the administration's top-down approach that imposes new bureaucratic restrictions and costs jobs, the U.S. needs a balanced policy to take into account local, regional and national interests to ensure the responsible and sensible use of our oceans.

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