As summer winds down and we consider one last day at the beach, one last lobster roll, or one last sailing trip, an ominous threat is lurking — and it’s not a great white shark.
It’s a Congress that is threatening to derail the National Ocean Policy and the progress that Maine and other New England states are making toward protecting and restoring our ocean.
Mainers know that our ocean is central to our way of life and our economy. Tourists from around the globe flock to our beaches, stay in our hotels and eat at our restaurants. The waters of the Gulf of Maine support one of the richest ocean ecosystems on the planet, as well as thousands of local jobs on fishing boats and in the onshore industries that support them and process the catch.
All told, Maine’s ocean contributes more than $2.6 billion each year to our economy.
However, U.S. ocean policy has been a messy free for all. There are more than 140 laws and regulations enforced by more than 20 federal agencies (and numerous state and local authorities) that govern ocean resources. Their policies are too often uncoordinated and the results too often harm our ocean.
Already we are seeing threats from overexploitation, habitat degradation, coastal pollution and competing usage, which in turn jeopardize the jobs and recreation that they provide. For example, nationwide, the number of beach closings and advisories in 2010 reached 24,091 — the second-highest level since tracking began 21 years ago.
In July 2010, after two blue ribbon commission reports and an extensive nationwide series of hearings, President Obama issued an executive order establishing the nation’s first comprehensive National Ocean Policy (NOP) for the stewardship of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes.
This policy will establish better ocean management through regional partnerships, stakeholder engagement, science-based decisions and an open public process where all ocean users have a seat at the table. It also will save taxpayer dollars by improving government efficiency, reducing agency duplication, increasing coordination and ensuring comprehensive data collection and public involvement that informs decision-making.
The National Ocean Policy will help protect the health of our ocean ecosystems and bolster our coastal economy. It will help bring scientists, fishermen and clean energy developers together to identify areas appropriate for renewable energy production from our wind, waves and tides. At long last, it will bring us much needed clean energy and create new jobs and businesses. It could also give us new tools and resources to address the persistent pollution problems that close down our beaches.
This new approach was pioneered right here in New England. In 2008 Gov. Deval Patrick signed the Massachusetts Oceans Act launching the development of a comprehensive Ocean Plan for that state and Rhode Island followed suit with the Ocean Special Area Management Plan.
These plans represent a bold new way of engaging ocean users in thinking about and planning for the future use of our ocean waters. These planning efforts already are bearing fruit by helping foster more sustainable development, better decision making and reduced user conflicts. New England is leading the charge but we need the National Ocean Policy to make those plans more effective, expand them into federal waters and bring the benefits of this coordinated, inclusive and science-based approach to coastal communities around our nation.
Unfortunately, there are some in Congress who see any attempt to protect our environment and manage public resources as a threat to business. There has been an effort in the House of Representatives to thwart the National Ocean Policy by attaching a “rider” to an agency funding bill. This approach is a favorite tactic of the anti-environmental contingent in the House which has launched dozens of similar attacks on clean water, endangered wildlife, and clean air.
Maine’s economic future is closely linked to our rich ocean waters. The National Ocean Policy is a powerful tool to improve the health of both. Our leaders must resist the call to sacrifice this important policy for misguided ideological reasons, and chart a bold new path forward for our ocean and for our economy.
Berl Hartman is the co-founder and director of the New England Chapter of Environmental Entrepreneurs and a senior marketing executive and entrepreneur whose focus is on clean technology and clean energy. Priscilla M. Brooks is senior economist, vice president and director of Ocean Conservation of the Conservation Law Foundation.