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Obama Ocean Task Force Plans to Resolve Competing User Conflicts
WASHINGTON, DC, December 14, 2009 (ENS) - The Obama administration is trying a new approach to federal resource planning for oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes by establishing nine regional planning bodies that will work together and with the administration in an integrated manner.

A new framework document released for public comment today by President Barack Obama's Ocean Policy Task Force outlines the process through which the federal government will work with states, tribes, local governments and communities to decrease conflicts among competing users.

"The uses of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes have expanded exponentially over time," said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality who heads the Ocean Policy Task Force. "At the same time they are facing environmental challenges including pollution and habitat destruction that make them increasingly vulnerable."

"Without an improved, more thoughtful approach, we risk an increase in user conflicts and the potential loss of critical economic, ecosystem, social, and cultural benefits for present and future generations," said Sutley.

Sutley said the administration will reconvene the National Ocean Council to work with the regional planning bodies.

The process is intended to improve planning and regulatory efficiencies, decrease their associated costs and delays, and preserve critical ecosystem function and services, she said.

An offshore drilling platform is brought into the yard at Ingleside, Texas on a semisubmersible transport ship. (Photo by Glennaa)

The Interim Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning describes how the new approach would be developed and implemented, and provides timeframes and steps for phase-in of the framework.

While many existing permitting processes include aspects of coordinated planning, most focus solely on a limited range of management tools and outcomes such as oil and gas leases, fishery management plans, and marine protected areas.

Sutley says comprehensive marine spatial planning presents a more integrated, comprehensive, ecosystem-based, flexible, and proactive approach to planning and managing uses and activities.

"We as a nation are saying loud and clear that healthy oceans matter," said Dr. Paul Sandifer, senior science advisor to the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, on a teleconference with reporters today.

"This interim framework lays out a broad range of recommendations and serves as a pro-active and flexible model of how to use oceans, coasts, and the Great Lakes in a balanced and sustainable way," Sandifer said. "Americans want and expect a lot - clean beaches, abundant wildlife, clean energy, stable fisheries, ecosystem services, but we cannot have these services without healthy ocean ecoyststems. I encourage people to read this framework and send their comments in."

Melting ice in the Alaskan Arctic (Photo by John De Savage)

Rear Admiral Sally Brice-O'Hara, deputy commandant for operations, U.S. Coast Guard, represents the Department of Homeland Security as member of the Ocean Policy Task Force. She told reporters today that the federal government must tackle emerging problems such as the vanishing Arctic ice cover and increased commercial vessel traffic across the Arctic in summer.

Responding to an ENS question about the need for the United States to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, Brice-O'Hara said, "The Law of the Sea is very important. The United States needs to move forward towards ratification by the Senate."

"There is diminished ice in the Arctic. As Arctic nations work out their claims to the extended continenal shelf in the Arctic, if there is no U.S. ratification we will not have a seat at the table," the rear admiral said.

On August, 10, 2007, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the Canadian Forces would develop a new naval base at the existing deepwater port at Nanisivik on northern Baffin Island. Perceived advantages include, he said, a strategic location on the Northwest Passage, pre-exisiting dock and refuelling infrastructure, and a nearby airstrip.

Brice-O'Hara said the Coast Guard also must deal with the loss of coastal habitat; more demand for ocean-based renewable energy facilities utilizing wind, current and wave; and competing demands of users who need offshore spaces for oil and gas drilling, aquaculture, military training and recreation.

To balance protection of the marine environment with these uses will require adequate financial resources and governance, said Brice-O'Hara.

"Marine spatial planning is an important tool that will inform the decisions that the Department of the Interior makes under its many existing coastal and ocean authorities," said Associate Deputy Secretary Laura Davis. "It is important that we make every effort to improve communication and coordination on these issues among the federal government, states and stakeholders."

Davis said she does not believe the new process would have negative impacts on any Interior responsibilities and authorities, including oil and gas exploration and development. Instead, she said, "we will uncover some increased efficiencies."

Click hereto read the Interim Framework for Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning.

The Interim Framework is open for public comment through February 12, 2010.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.



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