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Many Agencies Already Have Federal Authority to Undertake Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning

October 3, 2011

Executive Order on Ocean Policy Under Fire

(Washington, DC) — Tomorrow, the House Committee on Natural Resources will have a hearing to discuss coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP) and the new national ocean policy, as called for in the recent Executive Order, Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes. That Order requires agencies to undertake CMSP using existing legal authority. The hearing will consider legal authority for this important undertaking.

The Environmental Law Institute has explored these and other questions in recent reports. The Institute has also developed a two-page summary, Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning: Existing Federal Agency Authority that provides a brief overview of the legal basis for CMSP. “Our work,” said ELI President John C. Cruden, “shows that many agencies already have extensive authority to undertake environmental assessments, planning, area-based designations, and consultation with other agencies and the public—all key elements in the CMSP process.”

The Institute’s two-page summary explains that the National Marine Fishery Service, along with regional fishery councils, develop fishery management plans and can restrict area usage based on gear type or fishing activity; the Coast Guard designates shipping routes to ensure safety and in consideration of other uses in the area; and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (formerly Minerals Management Service) creates five-year lease plans for oil and gas development through a process that considers other economic, social and environmental values.

Ocean Program Director Dr. Kathryn Mengerink notes that “many agencies have been planning, conducting assessments, and designating areas for various human uses for many years. What has been missing is appropriate coordination among agencies in undertaking these activities. This is what CMSP is designed to do.” Dr. Mengerink concludes, “As we look to the oceans for new opportunities for economic development, recreation, and livelihoods, we need to be sure that we do so in a manner that maximizes sustainability and minimizes harm to important natural resources. CMSP is a tool to help us achieve these goals.”