This week in our nation’s capital, ocean leaders, advocates and businesses, along with ocean champions in Congress, are taking a closer look at the future of our oceans, as part of Capitol Hill Oceans Week. Thanks to a report released today by the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, identifying some of our oceans’ greatest challenges might be easier than expected for our representatives. To see much of what’s harming the health of our ocean resources, coastal economies, and communities, some leaders in Congress simply need to look in the mirror.
Back in 2010, President Obama announced the creation of the National Ocean Policy (NOP), a landmark effort to safeguard our oceans and coasts, and the jobs and communities that depend on them. For the first time ever, the 20 federal agencies that govern our oceans are now working together, rather than in conflict, to manage our marine resources and activities. This common-sense principle has such clear rewards that it was recommended by two separate bipartisan commissions during George W. Bush’s presidency.
The latest report from the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI) shows how far we’ve come in just two years under the National Ocean Policy. After decades of uncoordinated ocean management, federal agencies are now communicating more efficiently and effectively under the National Ocean Council. By coordinating more closely with states, tribes, and local governments, federal agencies are working to cut waste while preserving resources important to local economies that depend on fishing, tourism, and clean energy development.
And at the regional level, under the National Ocean Policy, multi-state partnerships are facilitating greater engagement among stakeholders, fostering ocean science and research, and using improved tools like regional ocean planning to map out a sustainable future for our oceans.
Despite these gains, the National Ocean Policy has a long way to go, especially with obstructionist politics standing in its way. As JOCI’s report card emphasizes, Congressional attacks on the National Ocean Policy threaten to hurt its effectiveness and contribute to the bad grade given for national- level implementation.
In the most recent round of partisan attacks on this common-sense policy, Republican leaders in Congress are trying to gut the National Ocean Policy all together.
Just last month, House Republicans passed through an amendment to a critical government spending bill, prohibiting any federal funding for National Ocean Policy efforts. With this misguided vote, leaders of the House aimed to stop agencies from working together to address critical problems, like contaminated beachwater, marine debris, loss of valuable coastal habitat, and future oil spills like the 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The Joint Ocean Commission rightfully urges Congress to reject such efforts to restrict or prohibit funds from being used to implement the National Ocean Policy.
Now our senators have the chance to stand up for smart ocean management when a companion bill comes to the floor of the Senate as early as this month.
We can’t afford to let backdoor attacks jeopardize the future of our oceans. From coast to coast—and everywhere in between—we depend on our ocean resources for food, jobs, and recreation. It’s time for Congress to step above the partisan bickering, get serious about protecting the health of our oceans, and move the National Ocean Policy forward.