Chairman Rockefeller's Remarks on The Future of Ocean Governance: Building Our National Ocean Policy

November 4, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes provide our nation with unmatched wealth.  Their beauty inspires us.  They provide the air we breathe and the water we drink.  They are home to magnificent animals – whales, dolphins, fish, and corals – that never cease to amaze us. 
This Congress, Senator Cantwell and I have made a point to talk about the enormous wealth and economic support that our oceans and Great Lakes provide coastal communities, and the United States, as a whole.
Today’s hearing will highlight similar work the Administration is undertaking on this same front.
In June, the President charged the Council on Environmental Quality to create an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to develop recommendations for a national policy for our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes, and he asked them to build a framework for coastal and marine spatial planning.
The President set out an ambitious plan for the federal government with an ambitious timetable requiring the Task Force to report back in 180 days on its recommendations. 
It is time.  Forty years ago, the Stratton Commission defined the structure and substance of a national ocean policy.  Yet today, ocean management remains fragmented with an array of laws, regulations, and practices that confound efforts to protect, manage, and restore our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes for future generations. 
We have a responsibility to get this right and I look forward to working with the Administration as it finalizes its recommendations for a national policy for the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes and develops a framework for coastal and marine spatial planning. 
The Commerce Committee has a longstanding history working on comprehensive ocean planning and has developed legislation that balances conservation and human uses, from habitat protection and national marine sanctuaries to commercial fishing, offshore thermal energy conversion, and maritime shipping lanes. These issues touch our lives everyday and will affect our communities for years to come.
The Committee is charged with the comprehensive study and review of all matters relating to science and technology, oceans policy, and transportation, and has exercised this interest through its oversight of:  NOAA, the nation’s premier ocean science and resource agency; the United States Coast Guard, charged with safeguarding our maritime safety, security, and environment; and, other federal agencies whose activities fall within our jurisdiction.  The Committee works to make sure policy decisions are built on and supported by strong science and technology.
I want to commend the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force for its hard work.  This is a challenging issue.  As the Task Force prepares its final recommendations for the President, I would ask that it consider the following issues:
(1) Give NOAA a central and strong leadership role in any efforts to improve the national stewardship of our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes, and acknowledge the agency’s critical role in the final report and framework;
(2) Show us the money.  The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy provided over 200 recommendations to Congress to improve ocean and coastal management.  The Commission estimated that the new funding necessary for implementing the recommendations would be $1.3 billion in the first year and up to $3.87 billion in ongoing annual costs for NOAA and other federal agencies.  Senator Cantwell, Senator Snowe, and I have called for $8 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget.  We must recognize that, in order to improve and manage our ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources effectively, we need to fund these efforts.  It is a wise investment in our nation’s environmental and economic future.
(3) Evaluate existing legislative authorities and determine what more must be done to improve stewardship, management, and conservation, while balancing multiple uses in the marine environment.  I hope that the Administration will work with Congress as it implements the recommendations.
This Committee recognizes that healthy oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes mean a healthy future. They mean quality jobs, strong industries, and thriving communities. They are a precious and beautiful natural resource, and we have a responsibility to protect them.