Friday, July 22, 2016

New Ocean Plan - What it is and what it is not

In early July, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body (RPB), a collection of representatives from 6 States (NY, NJ, MD, DE, PA, VA), 8 Federal Agencies, 2 Federally Recognized Tribes, and the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, released a draft Mid-Atlantic “Ocean Action Plan”. The draft Plan is the culmination of a process initiated in 2010 by President Obama’s Executive Order and seeks to balance ocean ecosystem health with the demands for increased development and ocean use.

These efforts represent an important and long overdue dialog between federal and state agencies, setting forth a framework for improved coordination between these government entities to better manage activities that will impact coastal resources. The draft Plan also commits to improved data gathering, research and identification of areas for further study, and has invested in and supported the development of visual ocean use and marine life habitat mapping that may help ocean users and agencies make better decisions. While the draft Plan is a much needed first step in understanding where human use activities are occurring in the context of the greater marine ecosystem, it is also important to understand what the draft Plan is not, and where potential pitfalls may occur.

The draft Plan is silent on the development of fossil fuels in our region. The draft Plan does not prohibit any harmful industrial activity including LNG ports, permanent extraction of sand and mineral resources, large-scale finfish aquaculture pens, or ocean dumpsites. In fact, the only form of energy development the draft Plan addresses is wind energy, even as nearly a half million acres of ocean off of NY and NJ has already been or is soon to be leased. The draft Plan relies solely on existing legal authority and is silent as to how agencies will use the draft Plan in their decision-making process. Many federal and state agencies appear reluctant to formally incorporate the draft Plan and its data products into agency guidance and regulations. Furthermore, the draft Plan seeks to provide an as yet specified level of environmental protection only for areas of the ocean deemed “Ecologically Rich Areas”; a concept that while nice in theory, could potentially create “winners and
losers” in an interconnected and fluid ocean environment.

COA has been concerned from the start with the rigid and “top down” public input model which has limited meaningful public involvement. For this reason, it is especially important that all members of the public review the draft Plan, and submit comments advocating for stronger, more specific language addressing the concerns laid out above. The draft Plan must include specific commitments from agencies to protect the mid-Atlantic from oil and gas development, harmful industrialization, and safeguard our communities and marine life from climate change impacts.

The 60-day public comment period runs through September 6, 2016. Public comments may be submitted by sending an email to: or by writing to:
Robert P. LaBelle, Mid-A RPB Federal Co-Lead
45600 Woodland Road
Mailstop: VAM-BOEM DIR
Sterling, VA 20166

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