Oceans 21 One Step Closer

By Sheril Kirshenbaum

On April 23, 2008, the House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans, met to markup H.R. 21 (Oceans Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century Act) also called Oceans 21. It passed 11-3 and the subcommittee opposed all amendments that would weaken the bill.

On Wednesday, April 23, 2008 the House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans, met to markup H.R. 21 (Oceans Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century Act) also called Oceans 21.  It passed 11-3 and the subcommittee.   The House bill currently has 66 cosponsors and it has not yet been introduced in the Senate.

The bill was introduced by Congressman Sam Farr (D-Ca,17th), who is a co-chair of the bipartisan House Ocean Caucus, made up of over 50 members who represent coastal areas.  It was first introduced in the 108th Congress and has now been revised based on input from the oceans and fishing communities. Oceans advocates have been pushing for the bill for three years  and Wednesday’s approval is the furthest it has progressed.

Oceans 21 intends to provide better ocean management and prioritize healthy oceans and coasts.  It would serve several purposes including, but not limited to, setting a national policy for oceans and establishing a national and regional ocean governance structure.  It would implement key recommendations of the Congressionally mandated U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the report of the Pew Oceans Commission.  It would establish a “national oceans adviser” for the president and federal advisory bodies on ocean policy and  contains–of extreme significance–language that authorizes NOAA.  The agency has existed since 1970, but has not been authorized by Congress.  The bill provides $1.3 billion each year to develop and implement regional ecosystem based management plans by establishing an Oceans and Great Lakes Conservation Trust Fund.

There are also objections to Oceans 21.  Congressman Henry Brown (R-S.C.) and other Republicans filed 17 amendments against it, which would strike entire sections of the bill including the creation of a committee on ocean policy, requirements for ecosystems-based management and a charge for agencies to develop a national oceans policy.  Ranking member Brown believes the bill’s requirements for agencies to consider oceans health could go too far, expressing concern over the potential to create further confusion and regulatory hurdles. Republicans Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Jim Saxton of New Jersey voted in favor of the bill, while all other Republicans present objected to passage.

In the face of objections, Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) offered an amendment that would change a requirement that agencies review each project for its potential effects on ocean health.  Instead, federal agencies would be required to revise existing regulations as needed to ensure that they are carried out consistantly with oceans conservation policy.

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