White House Releases Oceans Plan To Streamline Coastal, Marine Permitting

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Amena H. Saiyid  

The White House released a draft implementation plan Jan. 12 that would establish nine regional committees by 2015 to develop plans for streamlining the permitting processes for use of marine and land areas along the nation's oceans and Great Lakes.

The plan contains dozens of milestones dealing with coastal wetlands, water quality, invasive species, climate change, and hypoxia for various agencies.

The National Ocean Council's plan would implement the National Ocean Policy set forth in July 2010 by President Obama with Executive Order No. 13,547 (137 DEN A-13, 7/20/10).

The National Ocean Council, which was established under the policy, is charged with implementing the nine priorities spelled out in the draft plan. Those priorities include developing coastal and marine spatial plans, strengthening resiliency to climate change, and adopting ecosystem-based planning.

It is required to certify any regional coastal or marine spatial plans that the regional advisory committees devise for managing their ocean areas. Spatial planning refers to the process of deciding what activities are suitable for specific coastal areas.

The White House is taking comment on the draft implementation plan through Feb. 27. The council aims to complete and approve the final plan by spring.

No Change in Existing Policies

The council, however, emphasized that the National Ocean Policy and the draft implementation plan “do not change existing federal policies.”

Rather, the draft plan aligns priorities across the federal government on initial actions required to achieve the National Ocean Policy's goals. It added that this plan will be updated periodically as the agencies make progress in achieving various milestones.

The plan calls for establishing the four of the nine regional advisory committees by 2013 and the remainder by 2015. It also would require the council to release a handbook for regional coastal and marine spatial planning that would include guidance on land-use decisions.

On the impacts of climate change on ocean acidification, the draft plan would require an interagency plan by 2020 for coordinated monitoring.

Groups Opposed to Spatial Planning

The National Ocean Policy Coalition, which includes the National Association of Home Builders, the American Petroleum Institute, Council of Great Lake Industries, the Conservation Cooperative of Gulf Fishermen, among others, remains opposed to the coastal and marine spatial planning process, terming it a “zoning tool” that would add one more regulatory layer to the existing permitting processes (193 DEN A-13, 10/5/11).

Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said Jan. 12 that it was concerned about the use of the coastal marine spatial plans, which they say “may very well be a multi-layered bureaucratic solution seeking a problem that doesn't exist.”

Also critical was Rep. Doc. Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, who called it federal overreach in a Jan. 12 statement. Hastings pledged to hold more hearings on the plan's impact on communities.

In contrast, Frances Beineke, president of the Natural Resource Defense Council, said in a Jan. 12 blog update that “the Obama administration's National Ocean Policy and implementation plan will get us moving in the right direction,” saying that for decades the country has lacked a comprehensive system for managing the oceans and protecting the jobs that healthy oceans create.

Comments on the National Ocean Council's draft implementation plan may be submitted at http://www.whitehouse.gov/webform/submit-comments-draft-implementation-plan.

For More Information

The National Ocean Council's draft implementation plan is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/files/documents/OPTF_FinalRecs.pdf.