Trump Revokes Obama Ocean Policy

Published August 15, 2018

President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) scrapping his predecessor’s ocean policy and replacing it with one de-emphasizing federal bureaucratic control of coastal waterways and adjacent lands.

Trump’s June 20 EO eliminated former President Barack Obama’s July 19, 2010 Ocean Policy Initiative (later renamed National Ocean Policy). Obama’s EO subjected major bodies of water – oceans, bays, rivers, and the Great Lakes – plus the adjacent land to federal “coastal and marine spatial planning,” in order to improve the nation’s “capacity to respond to climate change and ocean acidification” while stressing the importance of “social justice,” “biological diversity,” and “conservation.”

An elaborate, multi-layered bureaucratic structure was created to oversee ocean planning made up of of nine regional commissions, composed of federal, state, and tribal officials, intended to determine which commercial and recreational activities were appropriate in and around major bodies of water. Their recommendations, however, would have to be approved by a newly created National Ocean Council, which the Obama White House said would “strengthen ocean governance and coordination.”

A New Set of Priorities

Trump’s action rescinding Obama’s National Ocean Policy EO is part of his administration’s continuing efforts to deemphasize fighting climate change, the threats from which the president thinks are overblown, as a major policy goal, and to reduce regulations unnecessarily hampering job creation and economic activity.

Trump’s EO states U.S. waters “are foundational to the economy, security, global competitiveness, and well-being of the United States.”

“Ocean industries employ millions of Americans and support a strong national economy … [and] [d]omestic energy production from Federal waters strengthens the Nation’s security and reduces reliance on imported energy,” says Trump’s EO.

According to the fact sheet released by the White House to accompany Trump’s new ocean order: “Promotes a strong ocean economy by rolling back excessive and unnecessary bureaucracy created by 2010 order, including elimination of Regional Planning Bodies and reducing regulatory uncertainty; promotes expanded access by states, businesses, and the public to federal data and information and maximizes taxpayer dollars by coordinating priority research; [and] empowers states by eliminating duplicative federal bureaucracy and supporting appropriate federal engagement with Regional Ocean Partnerships, pursuant to the scope described in the order.”

Trump’s order virtually eliminates data-collection policies the Obama administration imposed which many state, local, and federal officials had objected to, and it abolishes the National Ocean Council.

The Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Rob Bishop (R-UT), welcomed Trump’s move.

“Today’s announcement of President Trump repealing and replacing the bureaucratic, overreaching policy created under the previous administration puts our country’s ocean policy back on the right track,” Bishop said in a statement. “President Trump’s action will help the health of our oceans and ensure local communities impacted by ocean policy have a seat at the table.”

A variety of business groups, including the National Association of Charterboat Operators, Recreational Fishing Alliance, Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries, National Ocean Industries Association, and the Gulf Economic Survival Team issued statements or made public comments hailing Trump’s new ocean policy.

‘Poorly Designed’ Ocean Policy

The Obama administration’s ocean policy ignored input from the fishing industry, says Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association in a statement. “No longer will U.S. commercial fishermen be ignored through a poorly designed national ocean policy that actually kept them, members of the nation’s oldest industry, from having true input at the table, even though the ocean is their place of work,” Brady said in a statement. “We truly appreciate the President’s efforts.”

Chuck Daniel, executive director of the Delaware-based Caesar Rodney Institute says coastal states will benefit from Trump’s ocean policy changes.

“Delaware’s tourism and seafood industries are driven by small businesses that have now been freed from the bureaucratic burdens of the Obama ocean policy,” said Daniel. “Obama’s ocean policy was red tape for red tape’s sake.”

Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, agrees with Daniel’s assessment.

“Under the Obama scheme, state and local officials were relegated to the sidelines when it came to making decisions on the use of waterways. Washington ran the show,” Rucker said. “For small businesses, particularly commercial fishermen, it was a nightmare of red tape.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.