The president’s executive order touts benefits of domestic energy production and interagency coordination to economy.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The loud noises of Pres. Donald Trump’s press conference with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin in Finland, Scott Pruitt’s resignation from the Environmental Protection Agency and Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court (among other stories circulating on front pages and homepages of the Interwebs alike) are certainly distracting to the more minutia of policy decisions being made every day on Capitol Hill and within the White House. One of those minutia of policies enacted by the United States’ Commander-In-Chief was an executive order replacing the National Ocean Policy developed during the previous two administrations with a new directive.
Trump’s executive order, issued on June 19, formally revoked the National Ocean Policy, which spawned from the Oceans Act of 2000 and advocated for the collaborative and holistic management of the world’s largest waterways. In its place is the Trump Administration’s Ocean Policy, which emphasizes domestic energy production and national security.
“This order maintains and enhances these and other benefits to the nation through improved public access to marine data and information, efficient interagency coordination on ocean-related matters, and engagement with marine industries, the science and technology community, and other ocean stakeholders,” Trump’s executive order stated. “To advance these national interests, this order recognizes and supports federal participation in regional ocean partnerships, to the extent appropriate and consistent with national security interests and statutory authorities.”
The executive order broadly mentioned seven directives to guide future policy, such as the need for best management practices to promote sustainability, inter-agency coordination, economic growth for coastal communities and ocean-based industries, law enforcement and use of best available science and knowledge.
Some of those observing and monitoring Trump’s executive order on ocean policy said the verdict is still out on what the directive means and whether it is better or worse than its predecessor. Will the new Trump Ocean Policy continue his administration’s goal to open up the Pacific and Atlantic oceans (and the Gulf of Mexico) to offshore drilling activities? Could the rights of certain groups protected under the now-revoked National Ocean Policy be lost under Trump’s new directive? What concerns do environmental groups and legislators have with the White House’s latest policy?
A group of U.S. Representatives sitting on the House’s Committee on Natural Resources penned a letter to their chairperson shortly after Trump’s Executive Order was issued. The letter demanded oversight hearings be held to examine the intent and direction of the new Trump Ocean Policy.
“The purpose of the original [National Ocean Policy] was to enhance our ability to maintain healthy, resilient and sustainable ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources for present and future generations,” the letter, signed off by Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), Jim Costa (D-California), Jared Huffman (D-California), Alan Lowenthal (D-California), Donald Beyer, Jr. (D-Virginia), Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-California) and Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), stated. “We are concerned that the new Executive Order is short-sighted and backs away from that commitment and will overturn years of critical ocean planning and policy.”
The seven representatives added our oceans are already bogged down by several environmental issues, such as illegal/unreported fishing, algal blooms, marine debris/ocean litter and overfishing. They questioned whether the Trump Ocean Policy would address such issues in the same way as the Oceans Act of 2000 and subsequent National Ocean Policy.
“President Trump is unilaterally throwing out many previous components of the [National Ocean Policy] and the decades of work and input from Congress, two previous administrations, policy experts and the American public that went into its creation,” the letter stated. “This important topic deserves our attention and oversight.”
National Ocean Policy and Oceans Act of 2000
The origins of the National Ocean Policy – which is colloquially referred to as NOP – can be traced to the Oceans Act of 2000. Pres. Bill Clinton signed the act into law, which created the 16-member U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, in August 2000. Commissioners made 212 recommendations on potential ocean policy directives in 2004, which led to Pres. George Bush to submit an action plan to Congress.
Establishment of the National Ocean Policy would not happen until after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010. Pres. Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13547 during the spill’s cleanup to implement the recommendations of an interagency task force he created one year earlier. Among the recommendations were the establishment of the National Ocean Policy and creation of the National Ocean Council.
The National Ocean Policy would, according to Grijalva and his colleagues on the House’s Committee on Natural Resources, “protect, maintain and restore the health of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources.”
“The original NOP has helped moved initiatives forward that improve the ocean economy, safety and security of ocean and coastal activities, and coastal and ocean resilience,” the June 19 letter authored by seven members of the House Committee on Natural Resources stated.
Executive Order 13547 emphasized stewardship and sustainability as its principal tenets, according to its opening paragraph.
“The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and resulting environmental crisis is a stark reminder of how vulnerable our marine environments are, and how much communities and the Nation rely on healthy and resilient ocean and coastal ecosystems,” Executive Order 13547 stated. “America’s stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes is intrinsically linked to environmental sustainability, human health and well-being, national prosperity, adaptation to climate and other environmental changes, social justice, international diplomacy, and national and homeland security.”
The intent of Trump’s Executive Order 13840, by comparison, appeared to be economic opportunity and national security.
“The ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters of the United States are foundational to the economy, security, global competitiveness, and well-being of the United States,” the opening paragraph of Trump’s executive order stated. “Domestic energy production from federal waters strengthens the Nation’s security and reduces reliance on imported energy.
“Our Armed Forces protect our national interests in the ocean and along the nation’s coasts,” the order continued. “Goods and materials that support our economy and quality of life flow through maritime commerce. Our fisheries resources help feed the nation and present tremendous export opportunities. Clean, healthy waters support fishing, boating, and other recreational opportunities for all Americans.”
Trump’s June 19 executive order wholly revoked Obama’s executive order.
National Geographic, in a July 2018 article about Executive Order 13840, confirmed Trump Ocean Policy would shift the nation’s ocean policy from the environment to economics. The coverage added Trump’s new policy “eliminated the inclusivity of indigenous voices in decision making.”
“[Obama’s executive order] came after a decade of study initiated by the Oceans Act of 2000, which updated the outdated 1969 Stratton Commission report on the oceans that, among other things, established the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,” the National Geographic article stated. “Experts are concerned that the latest EO largely ignores the important balance between the many groups clamoring for their chance in the waves—oil interests, renewable energy, indigenous rights, coastal community needs, recreational fishing, and more.”
The new Trump Ocean Policy would make several bureaucratic changes in the name of streamlining the process, but some wonder if such a move would in fact make it harder for agencies to cohesively work together on a national ocean policy.
One of those “streamlined” changes was the elimination of regional planning bodies, which connected various federal agencies together to manage waters. Trump’s new ocean policy directive now gives such management duties to individual states.
Surfrider Foundation also addressed the new Trump Ocean Policy, stating effective management of our oceans by all parties is a prerequisite to address coastal resilience, marine debris, renewable energy and water quality.
“A cornerstone of the National Ocean Policy was support for regional planning bodies (RPBs) that bring together states, federal agencies, stakeholders, tribes, and the public within distinct geographic regions to advance stewardship of the ocean and coasts,” a Surfrider Foundation blog post stated. “In regions such as the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, West Coast, and Pacific Islands, real progress has been made to protect the coastal ecosystems we all use and enjoy.”
The blog post later expressed concern about Trump’s revocation of the National Ocean Policy, claiming the future could be murky.
Surfrider Foundation’s blog post added: “It is unclear what impact this repeal will have on the work of regional planning bodies. In December of 2016, the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast RPBs were finalized and the Obama administration signed regional ocean plans that are already being implemented. States are supportive of the process and could continue implementation – but without federal agency involvement, the primary goals of the National Ocean Policy cannot be met.”