Ocean Policy and the Trump Administration

Monday, April 10, 2017

When it comes to the global commons, President Donald Trump has made his stance on climate change policy pretty clear. What will be his views on ocean policy? Certainly, given the impact of climate change on ocean acidification, last month’s Executive Order on energy independence was not good news for ocean health. But there are a multitude of marine and coastal issues that the Trump Administration will have to face. And while Trump has not explicitly laid out ocean policies for his new administration, he has provided some clues.

On December 9, 2016, ELI convened a panel of experts to discuss what we can expect, and what to look out for, in the months ahead. The panel included David Roche, a Staff Attorney at ELI; Addie Haughey, Associate Director of Government Relations at the Ocean Conservancy; Mike LeVine, Pacific Senior Counsel for Oceana; Pete Stauffer, Environmental Director of the Surfrider Foundation; Xiao Recio-Blanco, Director of ELI’s Ocean Program; and Laura Cantral, a Partner at Meridian Institute. The April issue of ELR’s News & Analysis includes a transcript of their discussion, key points of which are highlighted below.

One concern raised by the panelists—one that has since come into focus—is the federal budget. In addition to dramatically cutting funding for the U.S. EPA, Trump’s budget proposal would eliminate $250 million in NOAA programs for coastal management, including the entire Sea Grant program, which the proposal called “a lower priority than core functions…such as surveys, charting, and fisheries management.” In addition, state-assistance grants are targeted for a 30% total reduction. This could mean no money for the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) grants program, which funds coastal states to monitor water quality and protect public health at our beaches. This, Pete Stauffer noted, only underscores the importance of “framing natural resource protection in ways that spell out in dollars and cents the values of coastal communities” as a strategy for moving forward.

The Great Wave, Hokusai

One of the biggest issues to follow is offshore oil and gas development, particularly in the Arctic. Prior to taking office, Trump pledged to increase domestic oil and gas production, including offshore drilling. But shortly after the 2016 election, the Obama Administration issued its 2017-2022 plan for oil and gas leasing—the first five-year plan ever completed that doesn’t include sales in the Chukchi Sea or Beaufort Sea. And shortly after the panel, President Obama issued a ban on drilling in the Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast. How the Trump Administration will respond remains to be seen.

In addition, there’s the National Ocean Policy, first proposed by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy during the George W. Bush Administration and later carried out by President Obama’s Executive Order 13547. Federal and state agencies will likely want to move forward with implementing the ocean plans and other projects that they’ve already worked on under the Policy; they’ve invested a lot of time and energy into them, and it’s unlikely they’ll want to abandon them anytime soon.

The United States’ role in ocean protection on the international stage will also demand the attention of the new administration, particularly with regard to the global initiative for the creation of new, large marine protected areas; international actions to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing; and the deployment of new ocean renewable energy technologies. Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry engaged significant groups of coastal countries—including Russia—in increasing the level of environmental protection of the seas. The suite of initiatives taken under Kerry’s leadership demonstrated a clear spirit of international cooperation.

So, what might happen to these efforts in the next few months? The Trump Administration might look to Russia as a model for international policy. Russia has recently taken significant ocean conservation actions; in fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin designated 2017 as a “Year of Ecology.” On the other hand, it is possible that Russia may regard a U.S. retreat from the spotlight of international ocean governance as a chance to reinforce its sovereignty claims over the Arctic continental shelf, and attempt to open the region with seabed mining.

Lastly, the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI) recently released its Ocean Action Agenda, setting forth a set of recommendations for the new administration and the Congress. JOCI is a collaborative bipartisan effort created by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commissions to catalyze meaningful reform at all levels of government to ensure that our oceans stay healthy and continue to work for us and for our economy. So it will be interesting to see how the new administration responds.

For more on these and other ocean policy issues, be sure to check out this month’s featured article, available for free download here.

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