• Time to Wake Up: National Ocean Policy (Senator Whitehouse)


    Editor’s note: Senator Whitehouse delivered the following remarks in the Senate regarding the National Ocean Policy.  Sen. Whitehouse’s remarks make it very clear that the National Ocean Policy is not about creating a comprehensive framework to balance competing uses of the ocean, but rather is an attempt to implement a global warming policy while circumventing the legislative and regulatory processes. 

    As delivered on the Senate floor


    Mr. President, I come to the floor again to address climate change, particularly today the change that carbon pollution is wreaking in our oceans.

    Water temperatures are increasing.  Sea level is rising.  Ocean water is growing more acidic.  And powerful storms are becoming more frequent and more intense.  It is time to wake up to the threat to our oceans and coasts posed by carbon pollution.

    The rate at which carbon is now being dumped into the atmosphere and absorbed by our oceans is unprecedented.   NOAA estimates that almost one million tons of the carbon dioxide we dump into the atmosphere is absorbed into the oceans every hour.  One million tons every hour. We know with scientific certainty that carbon pollution causes the ocean to become more acidic; indeed, we measure that carbon pollution has caused the global pH of the upper ocean to increase nearly 30 percent, by some measures nearly 40 percent, since pre-industrial times.

    In Rhode Island, the Ocean State, coastal activities define our heritage, our culture, and also our economy.  Our coastal waters are spawning grounds, nurseries, and shelters for fish and shellfish, which we enjoy and from which we profit.  Our shores and coastal ponds are barriers that protect our coastal communities from ocean storms and that naturally improve water quality.  Our oceans and coasts make coastal states like ours, Mr. President, who we are.

    We will continue to take advantage of the ocean’s bounty, as we should.  We will trade, we will fish, and we will sail.  We will dispose of waste.  We will extract fuel and harness the wind.  We will work our oceans.  Navies and cruise ships, sailboats and supertankers, will plow their surface.  We cannot undo this part of our relationship with the sea.  What we can change is what we do in return.  If we use our best science and judgment to plan for the uses of our oceans, we will continue to reap the value they provide.

    Carbon-driven changes to our planet will continue, and will accelerate.  The faster you’re driving, the better your headlights need to be.  Our headlights in this area are scientific research and planning.  As we move, ever faster, into this uncharted territory, our headlights had better be working, to preserve the valuable ecosystems upon which our communities and economies rely.

    The National Ocean Policy, signed by President Obama in 2010, provides a common-sense framework for sensible research and planning, and public/private cooperation, as we face the significant challenges bearing down on our oceans and coasts—on both our ecosystems and our industries.

    Last week, the White House released the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan, a blueprint for effective management of our oceans and the Great Lakes.  It’s not easy to balance the competing needs of commerce, conservation, culture, and recreation.  More than twenty federal agencies oversee our marine industries, governing everything from fisheries to oil and gas leasing.  The Implementation Plan takes this on, and moves us toward better and more collaborative management of ocean resources.

    The Implementation Plan gathered the thoughts of a wide range of key stakeholders: maritime and energy industries; conservation and recreation interests; academic experts; and federal, state, local, and tribal governments.  The plan supports economic growth by streamlining permitting and approval processes, by improving mapping and ocean observing, and by providing greater access to data and information.  The plan lays out specific actions and timelines to protect and restore coastal wetlands and reefs, and to prevent economic losses and job losses due to degraded shores and degraded waters.

    Our coasts need immediate attention, so the plan could not come too soon.  It states, and I’ll quote: “Our nation lost nearly 60,000 acres of coastal wetlands each year between 1998 and 2004. . . . Habitats are being altered by invasive species that threaten native aquatic life and cost billions of dollars per year in natural and infrastructure damage.”

    The implementation process is all about local needs and concerns, so the National Ocean Policy establishes voluntary Regional Planning Bodies.  Local people can get together, layer together the relevant data, and promote greater and more responsible use of their region’s ocean resources.

    In England—New England, we’ve seen the value of this cooperative ocean planning.  Rhode Island’s Ocean Special Area Management Plan, Special Area Management Plan is called a “SAMP” in the trade, the SAMP has made ecosystem restoration and industry interests advance simultaneously.  I recently spent time at the Northeast Regional Planning Body meeting in Rhode Island, and I know that our region is excited to move forward with a regional process.

    So let’s look at some of the practical results when you get the information and the affected people in the room together:

    In Rhode Island, the wind-energy industry, with its vast potential for manufacturing and maintenance jobs, is rapidly developing wind farms off of our coast.  Thanks to the groundwork  that was laid by the Rhode Island SAMP, wind developers moved fairly smoothly through the regulatory thicket, and they avoided interference with marine highways, critical fisheries, habitats, and naval training ranges.

    There’s actually quite a good report that I commend all my colleagues on the Ocean SAMP published by the Rhode Island Oceans Special Area Management Plan. It’s a practitioner’s guide and it’s a very effective document that shows how well this worked.

    [Chart: RI WEA example]

    In this process local people were listened to, and they were heard.  When the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced this Wind Energy Area here, off of the Rhode Island coast, there was an area named Coxes Ledge, and the fishermen were concerned that the way that the ocean is there at Coxes Ledge made it a particularly rich fishing round, and they didn’t want it interfered with by having that area put up for wind farm development. And sure enough, when the map came out, you can see the curve of Coxes Ledge going right through the middle of the wind farm area, protected for the fishermen. They were listened to, and they were heard.

    [Chart: MA Whale Strikes Example]

    So much of this is simple common sense.  In Massachusetts, the endangered North Atlantic right whale, a population of about 450 of them feeds in the waters just off of Boston.  And the whale strikes between shipping and the right whales were becoming a problem.  And because the right whale is endangered, it was becoming a real risk for shipping going in and out of Boston Harbor.  So they found data that showed where the whale strikes were likely, and they mapped that data.  And when they mapped the data, they saw that if they just moved the shipping channel out of Boston Harbor up a little bit, they could come through an area that was largely safe from whale strikes. The cost to the industry: somewhere between 9 and 22 minutes of extra transit time, virtually nothing.   While the number of whale strikes has dropped significantly.

    [Chart: DE WEA Example 1]

    Here’s another example, from outside of Delaware.  The green, sort-of neon-colored dots here track the signals coming off of cargo ships going in and out of Delaware Bay.  And you can see, there’s a pretty solid track coming out of Delaware Bay, right through here. Well, when Delaware first proposed its Wind Energy Areas, they proposed these light green blocks as wind energy areas. And this one, as you can see, was planned right on top of the main shipping channel heading southeast out of Delaware Bay.

    [Chart: DE WEA example 2]

    Critics say that these kind of efforts to get the data and the people in the room together, “zone” the ocean, that’s just plain factually wrong.  .  The policy brings together people who use our ocean.  In this case, the case of Delaware Bay, simply putting everybody in the room allowed the  Wind Energy Areas to be modified to avoid the conflict.  And so, the southeastern area comes out and the turbine areas are beside it, and the problem has been solved. That is not zoning, that is what military officers would call  “situational awareness”—what the military would call “deconfliction.” What it really is is common sense.

    As Nancy Sutley, the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said, “With increasing demands on our ocean, we must improve how we work together, share information, and plan smartly to grow our economy, keep our ocean healthy, and enjoy the highest benefits from our ocean resources, now and in the future.”

    Our ocean and coastal economy is important.  Shoreline counties in this country generate 41 percent of our gross domestic product.  In 2010, 2.8 million jobs were supported by maritime economic activities; commercial ports supported 13 million jobs; energy and minerals production supported almost three-quarters of a million jobs.  But all of this activity creates opportunities for conflict.

    The National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan is a blueprint to resolve those wasteful conflicts, to “deconflict” intelligently, and to streamline efforts across the federal government to keep our oceans, and our ocean economy, thriving.  And it lets each region go forward at its own pace.

    Michael Keyworth is recent head of our Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, and he helped develop the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan, he said this: “The National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan will enable regions like New England to move ahead with this smart ocean planning by engaging people like me, who live and work on the water every day, while not forcing planning on other regions that do not currently want to engage in that process.”

    Mr. President, climate change is upon us, and its effects will only accelerate as we continue to spew megatons of carbon into our atmosphere.  Changes are occurring and they are occurring fast in the oceans.  Those facts make it all the more important that Congress remain vigilant, and that we put our full support behind the common-sense framework of the National Oceans Policy.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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