Calls for Drastic Changes in Government Management of Oceans
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
April 21, 2004
WASHINGTON--Citing increasing pressures from pollution,
overfishing and residential development, a federal commission
on Tuesday called for sweeping changes in how the U.S.
government manages the oceans, including allocating billions
of dollars in gas and oil royalties for ocean preservation.
The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, created by Congress
in 2000 and appointed by President Bush, concluded that
man-made problems have seriously jeopardized the health
of the oceans, from huge and toxic algae blooms to depletion
of fish stocks. Only a major overhaul of federal policy,
detailed in a 413-page report, could reverse the trend,
the commission found.
While the report focused primarily on oceans, the commission
also addressed government oversight of the Great Lakes,
urging a variety of steps to curb problems caused by pollution
and invasive species such as the zebra mussel.
"If our report is adopted, the payoff will be great,"
said retired Adm. James Watkins, chairman of the committee.
"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."
To attack the problem, the commission said the federal
government must work to streamline ocean management, which
is now spread among "a confusing array of agencies
at the federal, state and local levels."
The report also called for a fundamental change in how
the government addresses ocean problems, urging "ecosystem-based
management" -- focusing on entire regions -- rather
than the current policy of addressing each species or
habitat in isolation.
The commission recommended creation of a National Ocean
Council, to be chaired by an assistant to the president,
and for doubling the amount of federal funding for ocean
The report was the government's first comprehensive look
at ocean policy since the Stratton Commission issued "Our
Nation and the Sea" more than 30 years ago. Since
then, "more than 37 million people, 19 million homes
and countless businesses have been added to coastal areas,"
the report said, noting that the nation's reliance on
offshore oil and gas, marine transportation and coastal
tourism have also increased.
"These developments, however, come with costs, and
we are only now discovering the extent of those costs
in terms of depleted resources, lost habitat and polluted
waters," the report said.
Several environmental groups hailed the report and said
it represented a mandate for Congress and the president
Cameron Davis, executive director of the Lake Michigan
Federation, said the timing was perfect because there
is legislation pending in Congress to restore the Great
"We need to do something, and we need to do something
fast, or we are going to spend many times more to clean
up existing messes," Davis said, but "a report
like this can't mandate political will. At the end of
the day, that's what we need more than anything else."
Sarah Chasis, a senior attorney for the National Resources
Defense Council, said the commission's report highlighted
many of the same themes that were outlined in a Pew Oceans
Commission report in 2003.
"You have both of them basically saying we have
serious degradation, we need to act," Chasis said.
The commission's report will be sent to the nation's
governors for comment. Once the governors' comments are
reviewed, a final version of the report will be sent to
the president and Congress.
Watkins, the commission chairman, made a point of saying
that there were no "unfunded mandates" in the
report, which would require states to pay for reforms.
Rather, the commission laid out a funding scheme by year
to detail how the federal government could pay for the
plan, which includes 54 recommendations for Congress,
69 for the president, 125 for federal agencies and 13
for states, Watkins said.
The commission calls for $4 billion a year from unallocated
oil and gas royalties from off-shore drilling to be placed
into an Ocean Policy Trust Fund. The commission estimates
it would cost $1.3 billion to implement its recommendations
in the first year, $2.4 billion the second and $3.2 billion
in subsequent years.
"Will this be tough to sell?" Watkins asked.
"You better believe it. But we're going to go for
Ted Beattie, president and chief executive officer of
the John G. Shedd Aquarium and a member of the commission,
said a crucial aspect of the report is a recommendation
to educate the public on the perilous condition of the
oceans and the Great Lakes.
"There hasn't been a strong PR effort to tell people
what the situation is," Beattie said, adding, "If
we don't get after these problems, they are only going
to get worse."