Commission Urges New Ocean Protections
By John Heilprin
April 20, 2004
WASHINGTON - Citing a dire need to protect ocean resources
from exploitation and pollution, a presidential commission
is urging creation of a federal oceans trust fund from oil
and gas royalties.
The recommendation is one of dozens in the commission's
nearly 500-page draft report, the first such sweeping review
of U.S. ocean policy in 35 years.
The Ocean Policy Trust Fund - similar to the Highway Trust
Fund for transportation projects - would come from the annual
$5 billion in bonus bid and royalty payments made to the
U.S. Treasury for offshore oil and gas drilling, and from
"new uses of offshore waters," the commission
Up to $4 billion of that would be fair game for the fund,
the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy said in a report issued
Tuesday, along with "any future rents from permitted
uses" or "newer emerging uses in federal waters."
The panel said about $1 billion intended for land and water
conservation, national historic preservation and coastal
states would be unaffected.
"This is a crossroads moment, a moment of historic
opportunity," said James Watkins, the retired admiral
who chairs the commission created by Congress and the White
House in 2000. He said it was important for federal government
to require the new ocean protections but "avoid creating
unfunded mandates" passed on to states and local governments.
Commissioners spent 2 1/2 years studying coastal areas,
the Great Lakes and 4.4 million square miles of ocean -
an area nearly a quarter larger than all 50 states combined,
because it includes the exclusive economic zone stretching
about 200 miles from the continent and Pacific and Atlantic
The panel urged new "ecosystem-based" ways of
managing that put the needs of nature ahead of political
boundaries, while emphasizing that people's needs must also
The commission estimated the cost of all its recommended
actions at $1.3 billion the first year, $2.4 billion the
second year and $3.2 billion each year after that. But it
pointed to annual ocean-related economic activity of $700
billion in goods that ports handle, $50 billion from fishing
and trade, $11 billion from cruise ships and passengers
- and $25 billion to $40 billion from offshore oil and gas
"If our report is adopted, the payoff will be great,"
Watkins said in a video accompanying the report. "It's
now obvious that ocean resources are not limitless, nor
are ocean waters capable of continual self-cleansing. The
point is this: It's up to us to find ways to use and enjoy
the oceans in a sustainable way."
The commission found overexploited fish stocks and other
depleted marine resources; the loss or declining resilience
of habitat; and pervasive water contamination. It recommends
more ocean-related education for schoolchildren, doubled
federal research and increased emphasis on scientific-based
It also advises:
_Improved coordination of ocean policy in the White House,
including a new Cabinet-level National Ocean Council, new
regional councils and a Presidential Council of Advisers
on Ocean Policy.
_Reorganization of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
_Better data-sharing among national and international ocean
The draft report was given to governors and others for comment.
A final blueprint is to be delivered to Congress and the
White House later this year.
"No report has generated as much talk and anticipation
in the ocean community as this one," said Sen. Ernest
Hollings, D-S.C., whose legislation created the commission.
The last such report was released in 1969. Worried about
foreign fishing fleets close to U.S. coasts, the first ocean
commission prompted creation of NOAA in 1970 and coastal
zone and fishery management laws in 1976.
Watkins said he and the other 15 commissioners focused on
workable solutions, touring dozens of sites and listening
to hundreds of people talk about how oceans affect their
"Fundamentally, the message we heard boiled down to
this: The oceans and coasts are in trouble, and we need
to change the way we manage them," he said. "Perhaps
most important, people must grasp the vital role oceans
play in their lives and livelihoods, and the profound impact
they themselves have on the oceans and the coasts."
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