The chairman of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, backed by a national coalition that ranges from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association, is urging a shutoff to all funding geared toward implementation of a National Ocean Policy created by an executive order signed by President Obama, rather than congressional action.
Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Washington, has asked the House Appropriations Committee to freeze spending on the administration initiative, a piece of legislation has been perennially failed to launch.
Hastings and his committee have dogged the White House over its 2010 decision to create a National Ocean Policy without the consent of Congress and has presided over numerous hearings on the executive order which anticipates creation of a super bureaucracy to administer "marine spatial planning" — or "ocean zoning," as Hastings and critics of the concept prefer.
The White House has rejected the characterization, and Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey, the ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, scoffed at the idea of objecting to "ocean planning," asserting at a hearing last year that doing so was akin to opposing air traffic control.
But others disagree sharply, from Gloucester to the nation's capital and far beyond.
Angela Sanfilippo, president of the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association, said the policy was written without any input from or consideration for fishermen, leading to the worry that the industry would end up further marginalized.
"One more time, (from the) top down," said Sanfilippo. "I'm tired of it."
In an April 2 letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, Hastings raised concerns about executive overreach, stultifying bureaucracy and job loss due to uncertainty about access to resources in the seas and far up into the nation's river systems, anticipated by the White House ocean policy.
A letter sent to Rogers Thursday in support of Hastings' request by a coalition of more than 80 groups across various economic sectors — mining, oil, recreational and commercial fishing, farming, ranching as well as commerce in general — cited "the risk of unintended economic and societal consequences remains high, due in part to the unprecedented geographic scale."
"The National Ocean Policy is just like catch shares in that it was done around rather than through Congress," said Jim Kendall of the New Bedford Seafood Coalition.
Hastings said that, despite repeated requests, Nancy Sutley — who heads the Obama White House's Council on Economic Quality and co-chairs the National Ocean Council, which wrote the policy — has failed to explain the source or anticipated need for implementation financing.
"The administration's efforts to impose this policy across the nation and mandate ocean zoning should be put on pause until the full economic consequences are known and direct answers are given on the specific statutory authority that justifies the construction of this new, regulatory behemoth," Hastings wrote to Rogers. "I respectfully request that the Appropriations Committee include language in each fiscal year 2013 appropriations bill prohibiting the use of funds to implement this National Ocean Policy."
Hastings' request to slice down budgets that might be used to implement the Obama oceans plan comes with the House returning today from spring recess and needing to cut many billions from the budget to negate automatic across-the-board cuts written into a compromise forged last year by a special budget committee.
Marine spatial planning is one of a handful of concepts — including marine protected areas — developed by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and her former colleagues at Environmental Defense Fund and other nonprofits fueled by philanthropic and industrial foundation funding.
EDF — whose 2005 plan for gaining functional control of the oceans was obtained by the Times in 2009 — has begun ramping up its staff assigned to marine spatial planning in New England and the Pacific coasts.
An internal memo by Jake Kritzer, EDF's director of spatial initiatives for the Oceans Program, announcing a job search for a spatial policy analyst to work on "groundfish closed areas" on both coasts, was obtained by the Times this week.
"The focus might evolve to other geographies through time," wrote Kritzer, who also serves on the New England Fishery Management Council's Science and Statistical Committee.
In the 1990s, Lubchenco did pioneering work on marine spatial planning, and began promoting catch shares and marine protected areas. Using disputed scientific theories — including one that predicted that overfishing would leave the ocean to nothing but jellyfish — Lubchenco and colleagues wrote a political policy manifesto for President-elect Obama urging the spread of catch shares across the nation's fisheries, then accepted his offer to join the administration.
In the second half of George W. Bush's presidency, she and an EDF protoge, David Festa, wrote a piece declaring Bush "the Blue President" after he used the Antiquities Act, in conjuction with work by the Pew Environment Group, to create three marine-protected areas around the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas in the western Pacific.
Residents of the westernmost U.S. territories complained to the Times that the government was acting with colonial arrogance treating residents like subject peoples. And two San Francisco lawyers, James P. Walsh and Gwen Fanger, writing in an American Bar Association newsletter, argued that Bush had misused the law and acted in a manner of dubious constitutionality.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.