Alaska U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan. Northern Gas Pipelines Photo by Dave Harbour

We are grateful to Alaska U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan for spearheading this vital, under-reported hearing.  Now to repeal all aspects of President Obama’s unilateral Ocean Policy attack on America!

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National Ocean Policy Coalition Newsletter
The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard yesterday held an oversight hearing on the National Ocean Policy (NOP), featuring the U.S. Chamber of CommerceLong Island Commercial Fishing Association, and Family Farm Alliance, along with minority witness Kathy Metcalf of the Chamber of Shipping of America.  An archived video of the hearing is accessible here.

Chairman Dan Sullivan (R-AK) presided over the hearing, with Ranking Member Gary Peters (D-MI)and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) joining Sullivan in the witness Q&A, with Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO)Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) also in attendance during portions of the hearing.

As more fully described below in the detailed hearing notes, Chairman Sullivan and majority witnesses highlighted the negative impacts and risks involved with the NOP, including the mandatory and regulatory nature of it, increased bureaucracy (highlighted in part through a visual poster chart on display in the hearing room), broad scope in terms of impacted industries and geographic areas (including inland areas), increased uncertainty, new regulatory burdens and overlays (including Regional Planning Body efforts to identify special areas), and conflicts with existing statutes.  In doing so, it was noted that all such impacts resulted from the Executive Order in the absence of any statutory authority and in contravention of congressional will and intent.

Majority witnesses also highlighted NOP concerns related to litigation risks, deficiencies in data and a lack of science, non-government funding of NOP activities, lack of transparency, and the fact that negative impacts have already resulted.

In addition, the minority witness also relayed questions and concerns about the NOP, including questioning why inland activities were ever contemplated for a policy that was supposed to focus on the ocean, and noted that while good pieces of the policy need to be kept, others need to be addressed (in part highlighting her organization’s previous concerns about what happens with Regional Planning Body decisions and whether they could lead to regulations).  They also acknowledged that uncertainty still exists with the NOP, and suggested that vacating the NOP would be acceptable if that is what it takes to be “where we need to be,” but that “we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

During witness questioning, Sen. Blumenthal referred to a visual on display in the hearing room that depicted the complex bureaucracy created by the Executive Order, calling it a “mishmash” of oversight that wouldn’t become any clearer regardless of how close one got to the chart.


Chairman Sullivan

In his opening statement, Chairman Sullivan highlighted concerns with the NOP, noting that it significantly departs from ocean policy under the George W. Bush administration, threatens to impose new regulatory burdens and litigation risks, was established with questionable statutory authority and without congressional authorization, has done more harm than good, is a top-down initiative that could negatively impact a range of activities including those on land, creates conflicts with existing laws, and could undermine existing structures like regional ocean partnerships and fishery management councils.  He also noted that numerous congressional efforts to establish a similar policy failed under both Republican and Democrat leadership.

Recognizing that the policy’s architects have asserted that the policy’s goal was to unite stakeholders and streamline decision-making, Sullivan also noted that those are shared goals but that this particular policy could have the opposite effect.  Sullivan also drew attention to the complex bureaucracy created by the NOP, using a poster chart to highlight the various bodies and councils that were established under the Executive Order, and noted that goals to increase data sharing and promote science-based decision-making have widespread support.

Ranking Member Peters

Ranking Member Peters noted the NOP’s recognition of the Great Lakes and noted the history of ocean policy in recent administrations following passage of the Ocean Act in 2000.  In doing so, he noted that the Obama Administration introduced new components through the NOP like coastal and marine spatial planning, and expressed regret that the Subcommittee would not hear from state and federal agency witnesses about the successes and lessons learned following the 2010 Executive Order.  Peters also asked for letters of support from the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean, and several industries to be read into the record.

Long Island Commercial Fishing Association

In asking for Congress’s help to rein in the NOP, Long Island Commercial Fishing Association Executive Director Bonnie Brady talked about her background and experience with the NOP to date, calling the policy one of the greatest threats the Long Island commercial fishing industry has ever seen.  She also provided a firsthand account of her experience in dealing with the Regional Planning Bodies (RPBs) established under the Executive Order, and the burdens associated with that engagement.

In doing so, Brady highlighted major concerns regarding the inadequacy and inaccuracy of data being relied upon by the RPBs, the NOP’s attempt to grant various statutory powers to RPBs, the impact that RPB activities including efforts to identify special areas could have on the commercial fishing community, the funding of NOP/RPB activities by groups with anti-development biases, and the lack of transparency surrounding NOP implementation.  At the conclusion of her statement, Chairman Sullivan thanked Brady for her “very powerful” testimony.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

In calling for the NOP to be rescinded and Congress to continue to deny funding for its implementation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Energy Institute Senior Vice President Christopher Guithemphasized the unnecessary, bureaucratic, and unauthorized nature of the NOP, and the far-reaching impacts that it could have on various activities including those that take place well inland.  In doing so, he highlighted concerns about the policy’s coastal and marine spatial planning component and how it could close off areas to human uses and result in plans that exclude uses.  He highlighted that the risks are real and already present, with federal agencies directed to implement the policy and plans already developed in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, and with the previous administration citing the policy in part as justification for precluding energy activities in any new areas through 2017.  Guith also highlighted the widespread support across various economic groups around the country for reining in the NOP, and noted that the NOP is a step in the wrong direction and was an aggressive regulatory action in search of a problem.

Family Farm Alliance

In voicing support for executive and congressional action to vacate the NOP, Family Farm Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen talked about the potential for the NOP to affect activities well inland, including agriculture, calling the NOP another unhelpful level of federal management and oversight.  He specifically voiced concern that Regional Planning Bodies could increase the role of federal agencies in inland areas, and said that the policy’s Ecosystem-Based Management component allows the RPBs to potentially address inland activities in a way that could be leveraged by critics of irrigated agriculture to limit or restrict such activities.  Keppen also noted the lack of clarity about the federal resources that have been committed to NOP activities over the years, and said that existing mechanisms should be allowed to work rather than relying on the NOP and the unnecessary duplication and confusion it has created.

Chamber of Shipping of America

In asking the Subcommittee not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Chamber of Shipping of America President and CEO Kathy Metcalfemphasized areas of agreement among the witnesses, such as the importance of coordination and collaboration.  In doing so, she said that the NOP is about good governance, and said that the existing ocean governance structure could use some help.  At the same time, Metcalf said that the good pieces need to be left intact while other aspects of the NOP need to be addressed.  As to the latter point, she noted previous concerns her organization had about the NOP, including what happens with RPB decisions and whether they could lead to new regulations, adding that her industry cannot afford to have different requirements in different regions of the country.

In expressing support for ocean planning, Metcalf referenced use of regional ocean data portals and the need for accurate data, said that poor planning could reduce navigation safety, and added that the NOP is about helping agencies do a better job under their existing authorities rather than regulations.  She closed by expressing hope that the federal government would continue to allow stakeholders and agencies to work with each other either under the current NOP structure or a revised structure, and cited the redrawing of shipping lanes in Boston Harbor as one example of how collaboration can work.

Chairman Sullivan Witness Q&A

Chairman Sullivan noted issues with stakeholders being heard under the NOP, stakeholder costs associated with engaging on it, and the difficulty of navigating through the complex NOP bureaucracy.  In response, Brady said her biggest concern is areas being closed off to fishing, the absence of real science in the process, and major deficiencies in data being used by RPBs.

Sullivan also focused on the non-voluntary nature of the NOP, including the requirement that federal agencies participate regardless of whether all states in a given region decide not to engage.  Guith agreed, and noted that while everyone agrees on the importance of sustainable uses, the NOP lacks the requisite statutory authority, adding that lawsuits should be expected if final regulatory actions are taken pursuant to the NOP, and further agreeing with Sullivan that the lack of congressional authorization and congressional action to stop its implementation further demonstrates that the NOP is on shaky legal ground.

In noting that some elements discussed in the NOP are important, Sullivan also asked the minority witness what she had challenges with, noting opposition and concerns expressed by other maritime labor and transportation groups over the years.  In response, Metcalf said they look at the NOP as a tool to help agencies do their jobs better under existing authority and ensure coordination, while adding that uncertainty does exist about the NOP and questioning why references to activities occurring well inland were included in a policy focused on the ocean.

Sullivan concluded his questions by noting that the NOP was an end-run around Congress and asked the witnesses about the NOP’s most egregious element and whether there were any positive elements that could be pursued.  Brady was clear in stating that the NOP should be discarded, with her worst fears being that it results in closed areas under a process that has ulterior motives, and that agencies should already be doing the jobs that they are supposed to be doing.  Guith added that his greatest concerns were the NOP’s breadth and the uncertainty it has created, noting that mechanisms like the planning process under the OCS Lands Act already exist for coordination among stakeholders and government agencies. Keppenagreed that the NOP’s breadth and uncertainty were his greatest concerns, also adding that the NOP excludes non-government parties from direct participation and that the NOP needs to be vacated.

Metcalf said that if vacating the NOP is necessary to achieve shared goals and “where we need to be,” then that would be fine, but that “we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”  She said some kind of federal coordinating mechanism is needed, and suggested that efforts to reduce ambiguities, clarify that the NOP won’t have impacts on inland activities, remove overreach, and ensure that the NOP won’t be a tool for mischief could be helpful.

Ranking Member Peters Witness Q&A

Ranking Member Peters asked Metcalf to talk about the importance of marine planning to the Coast Guard.  In response, Metcalf said that locating and siting activities and increasing understanding of what is happening in the ocean is important to shipping from a navigation perspective as well as to the Coast Guard from a safety perspective, adding that it allows for an evaluation of threats.  Asked how strategic marine planning can help meet infrastructure needs, Metcalf said it can ensure safety, effectiveness of port operations, and efficiencies that result in jobs and economic growth.

Peters also asked Brady about a statement she made to POLITICO in March 2017 in which she voiced concerns about offshore renewable energy projects in the Atlantic.  After Brady verified the accuracy of the quote, Blumenthal said he agreed about the need to be careful with project decisions, and asked Brady how planning could be accomplished and whether Regional Planning Bodies could play a role.  Brady said she did not see a role for Regional Planning Bodies, adding that they have placed priority on certain uses over others like fishing, and voiced support for giving NOAA a greater role in decision-making (saying NOAA’s ability to influence project proposals is currently limited to Endangered Species Act processes).

Sen. Blumenthal Witness Q&A

Sen. Blumenthal asked Metcalf how the NOP has affected shipping in medium-sized ports and whether the NOP does enough to support shipping.  In response, Metcalf said that “we can always get better,” and that the more enclosed the space, the more important it is to identify user conflicts.  Referring to concerns raised in Brady’s opening statement, she added that this “should never be about choosing one use over another” but instead about coordinating all uses, which she said would help ports.

In directing a question to Brady, Blumenthal referred to the “mishmash” of oversight reflected in the NOP bureaucracy chart on display in the hearing room, adding that seeing the poster any closer wouldn’t make it any more helpful to understand.  He followed up by noting that an imperative of ocean policy is translating policy to action, and asked Brady what changes she would like to see in the NOP.  Brady said she would like to see the NOP discarded, that she would like to see NOAA provided with a greater opportunity to deny project approvals when important fishing grounds are threatened, and conveyed support for creating an offshore wind-related compensation fund for fishermen similar to a conventional energy-related one included under the OCS Lands Act.  She also noted that the fishing industry is highly regulated, to the point that the U.S. now imports 92% of seafood, compared to 52% in 1996, due to higher costs associated with stringent regulations.  She added that the NOP and associated lack of science compounds the problem.

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