Council to oversee marine resources
White House says protections are urgently needed
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced a new national policy yesterday for strengthening the way the United States manages its oceans and coasts and the Great Lakes.
Officials said the framework is needed more than ever after the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The policy calls for the creation of a National Ocean Council that will coordinate the work of the many federal agencies involved in conservation and marine planning. But the plan entails no new restrictions or regulations and is not expected to have any short-term effect on offshore oil drilling.
Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the new policy recognizes that use of the oceans is expanding at a rate that challenges the ability to manage competing demands.
Among the central tenets of the policy is a zoning process that confines certain recreational and commercial activities to designated areas, known as marine spatial planning. Proponents of the process say it will help balance and manage competing uses of the oceans.
The zoning would be overseen by new regional organizations, with final approval coming from the National Ocean Council.
The policy is based on final recommendations from the two dozen senior policy specialists from across the government named to the Ocean Policy Task Force Obama established last year. The president signed an executive order adopting the recommendations yesterday.
While marine spatial planning could ultimately affect offshore drilling, administration officials said any changes would be in line with the findings of a presidential commission investigating the causes of the gulf oil spill.
The administration imposed a moratorium on deep-water offshore drilling pending the outcome of the commission. That moratorium was later revised after courts struck down the original as heavy-handed.
Environmental advocates praised the national oceans policy as an important step in promoting a healthy environment.
“Coastal and marine spatial planning will allow for more transparent decisions about how to manage conflicting uses while maintaining and restoring the health of the ocean,’’ said Vikki Spruill, president and CEO of Ocean Conservancy, a Washington-based advocacy group.
The National Ocean Policy Coalition, representing energy and other business interests, said it is worried the recommendations could end up restricting some activities and lead to unintended economic consequences.
In a separate development yesterday, the administrator of a $20 billion gulf oil spill compensation fund set up by
Kenneth Feinberg noted that claimants are free to file a lawsuit instead, but added, “You’re crazy to do so, though.’’
“Because under this program, you will receive, if you’re eligible, compensation without having to go to court for years, without the uncertainty of going to court, since I’ll be much more generous than any court will be,’’ Feinberg said. “And at the same time, you won’t need to pay lawyers and costs.’’
Feinberg made the comments in a speech to the Economic Club of Washington, but his target audience included people and businesses who have suffered economic harm in the Gulf Coast area.
He noted that claimants could can get emergency payments for six months without giving up their right to sue. “It is, to my way of thinking, an easy call.’’
He said the fund is designed to compensate fishermen and others for their lost income.