White House Proposes Creation of National Ocean Council

The White House has released a plan for improved management and protection of federal waters, coastlines and the Great Lakes. The plan calls for the creation of a new interagency National Ocean Counci charged with coordinating the implementation of a new National Ocean Policy.

Obama Administration officials on Thursday released the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force Interim Report for a 30-day public review and comment period. The Task Force is led by White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley and consists of 24 senior-level officials from Administration agencies, departments, and offices.

"This Interim Report represents a wide spectrum of views and considerations, not just from within the federal government, but from members of the public, local officials, stakeholders and experts from coast to coast," Sutley said. "It delivers on President Obama’s request for recommendations that will move this country towards a more robust national policy for our oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes and recognizes that we have a responsibility to protect the oceans and coasts for the benefit of current and future generations."

The Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force was created by Presidential Memorandum on June 12, 2009. The Memorandum charged the Task Force with developing recommendations that include a national policy for oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes, a framework for improved Federal policy coordination, and an implementation strategy to meet the objectives of a national ocean policy within 90 days.

The Interim Report proposes a new National Policy recognizing 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."

It proposes modifications to the existing governance structure, including a stronger mandate and direction. Under the proposal, the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy would lead an interagency National Ocean Council to coordinate ocean-related issues across the Federal Government and the implementation of the National Ocean Policy. Such a governance structure, combined with sustained high-level staff involvement, would ensure that these areas are a priority throughout the Federal Government.

The Report also prioritizes nine categories for action, including ecosystem-based management, regional ecosystem protection and restoration, and strengthened and integrated observing systems, that seek to address some of the most pressing challenges facing the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes. These strategies and objectives are meant to provide a bridge between the National Policy and action on the ground.

"America’s oceans are vital to our prosperity, health, security and quality of life," said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "This is a historic day–for the first time, we as a nation say loudly and clearly that healthy oceans matter."

The Task Force is now focusing its efforts on developing a recommended framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning (as charged) within 180 days. In addition, the Task Force continues its public engagement activities, including holding at least five more regional public meetings scheduled to take place in the following cities: San Francisco, California; Providence, Rhode Island; Cleveland, Ohio; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Honolulu, Hawaii.

The initial meeting was held in Anchorage, Alaska on August 21, 2009.

The Interim Report may be found at the link below.

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