Alaska Officials Speak Out Against New National Ocean Policy

Published June 4, 2012

Alaska state officials are pressing the Obama administration to exercise restraint in implementing a new National Ocean Policy that threatens to shift power from the states to the federal government.

Decisions Move to DC

Appearing at a U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee Field Hearing April 3 in Anchorage, state officials joined citizens and entrepreneurs in expressing concern an executive order signed by President Barack Obama last summer will lead to a costly National Ocean Policy that stifles local economic activity and shifts power from state and local officials to federal bureaucrats thousands of miles away.

The executive order created guiding principles for decisions concerning management and action over oceans in order “to achieve an America whose stewardship ensures that the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes are healthy and resilient, safe and productive, and understood and treasured so as to promote the well-being, prosperity, and security of present and future generations.” 

Doug Vincent-Lang, acting director for wildlife conservation at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the National Ocean Policy threatens to override important local and regional insights regarding ocean resources.

“The decision-making processes are basically being governed, potentially, by the federal bureaucracies that are going to dominate these regional planning boards. If there is no consensus at the local level, that decision-making process will go to Washington,” Vincent-Lang warned.

Broad Opposition Forms

Among the other witnesses expressing concern about the new National Ocean Policy were state legislators, Alaska’s congressional delegation, directors from Alaska’s Division of Wildlife Conservation, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, and the Alaska Miners Association.

Prior to the hearings, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) coauthored with six other governors a letter to President Obama expressing concern about the National Ocean Policy being used as an excuse to stifle off-shore energy production.

“This is extraordinarily important that we are hearing from state legislators and industries … how the wrongheaded proposal coming out of the administration could negatively impact our success,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said at the hearing.

Local Concerns Summarized

U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) opened the field hearing by expressing concern the new National Ocean Policy will trample state and local oversight and disproportionately harm states like Alaska.

“[D]espite the administration’s claims that it will be the most transparent ever, this new federal environmental overlay is being developed and implemented with no direct stakeholder involvement,” said Young.

“Nowhere in the United States will the effects of the National Ocean Policy be felt to the extent that it will in Alaska.  The reach of this ‘ocean’ policy will stretch throughout the entire state and affect almost any activity that requires a federal permit,” Young explained. “As we will hear from our witnesses today, the State’s economic vitality is a direct result of our ability to use our natural resources.  Any new federal initiative that affects our ability to use these natural resources will cost jobs.

“The administration claims that this whole National Ocean policy is nothing more than an attempt to coordinate federal agencies and make better permitting decisions,” Young continued. “Forgive me if I am a little suspicious when the federal government—through an Executive Order—decides to create a new bureaucracy that will ‘help’ us plan where activities can or cannot take place in our waters and inland. This effort to ‘zone’ a majority of the State of Alaska using new criteria and new policy goals will not be helpful. The fact that this effort will take place whether the State of Alaska wants it to or not makes me even more suspicious.”

‘Adds Uncertainty and Anxiety’

Rick Rogers, executive director of the Resources Development Council for Alaska, summarized the Council’s concerns about too much federal involvement stifling state decision-making and oversight. 

“The National Ocean Policy adds uncertainty and anxiety to an already cumbersome and complex regime of state and federal permitting and oversight,” Rogers told Environment & Climate News

“Increased bureaucracy could hamper the already slow processes with no added benefit to the environment,” Rogers explained. “In our view the Coastal Marine Spatial Planning/Regional Planning Body structure is an unauthorized new regulatory program that suggests a federal-level ‘top down’ approach to management resources with minimal local input.” 

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.