Ocean Policy Update

By Lindsay Davis, GSA Science Policy Fellow

On 19 June, President Trump repealed the National Ocean Policy and replaced it with an Executive Order Regarding the Ocean Policy to Advance the Economic, Security, and Environmental Interests of the United States. The new order emphasizes the economic and industrial benefits of the ocean and its resources. It also states that public access to data and technology are important and that science should be used to inform decisions.

lease areas RFF

A map denoting highest-potential Bureau of Ocean Energy Management wind lease sites off of the US Atlantic coast. Credit: BOEM/DOI

The effectiveness of the National Ocean Policy, formally Executive Order 13547 –Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes, was discussed late last year during an oversight hearing held by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard. The order was issued by President Obama in 2010 and focused heavily on conservation and marine spatial planning. Stakeholder witnesses from the fishing, farming, shipping, and energy industries came together to discuss the merits and challenges of the order. Members and witnesses stated that there were some serious problems with the National Ocean Policy, primarily related to marine spatial planning. However, the President and CEO of Chamber of Shipping America, Kathy Metcalf, was among those who emphasized that there were aspects of the policy that represented substantial progress and that should be conserved. Positive aspects of the executive order mentioned included a requirement to increase data sharing between agencies through a data portal, additional research on oceans, and increased coordination and collaboration between agencies. Approval of increased data sharing between agencies and promoting additional scientific research on oceans were specifically stated by Chairman Sullivan (R-AK). Concerns discussed included failure to consult representatives of the industries the policy was regulating in decision-making; top-down implementation of the executive order; lack of statutory authority; negative impacts to commercial fishing, inland agriculture, commerce, and energy; and duplication and confusion regarding federal policies. Ranking Member Peters (D-MI) stated he was disappointed there were no agency witnesses to discuss success stories.

The new order issued by President Trump highlights interagency coordination, industry and scientist engagement, access to data and information, national security, and statutory authority. It notes the intention to bolster the economic growth of coastal communities and will reinforce existing marine laws, both domestic and international. The executive order states that offshore energy production reduces the dependence of the U.S. on foreign energy sources, thereby strengthening national security. There is no mention of the types of offshore energy intended to be supported by the order.

The policy also mandates the formation of an Ocean Policy Committee, which will be co-chaired by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. The committee is tasked with advising the President and relevant agencies on ocean-related matters.

There has been speculation by conservation groups such as the Ocean Conservancy that the executive order could be using science to underpin economic gains rather than to inform a more comprehensive ocean management plan. A recent EOS article reported some sources have applauded the inclusion of science as an important decision-making factor, but wonder if science will inform ocean management or simply improve efficiency during resource extraction.

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