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Obama Administration Reveals Bedrock Ocean Policy Details -- and They're Strong

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Hailing from Hawaii and Illinois, President Obama knows oceans and the Great Lakes firsthand. And before his first year is out, he could quietly revamp the way our nation manages and protects these resources, all with the stroke of a pen. Today the Administration brought us significantly closer to making environmental history.

Like a Clean Air Act or a Clean Water Act -- bedrock environmental laws that radically improved the way we protect and manage these resources -- President Obama is in the process of creating a landmark national healthy oceans policy and plan of action for our seas.

We got our first glimpse today of what the administration is proposing in an Interim Report issued today by the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, which President Obama established in June.

Today's news indicates this policy is true blue. The details released today reveal the Obama Administration is crafting the most progressive, comprehensive national action for our oceans that we have ever seen. It is a ambitious, targeted and detailed game plan for saving our seas. This will be the first time we have ever had this kind of action for healthy oceans from any President in U.S. history.

Now, Americans will have the chance to weigh in through a 30-day public comment period and through a series of regional listening sessions around the country. The first kicked off in Alaska last month and the second will occur today in San Francisco (see what our CA Advocacy Director will say when she testifies in SF today here, and follow my fellow NRDC ocean team member Laura Pagano as she live blogs from the event.) Next week will be a hearing in Providence, followed by Honolulu, New Orleans and Cleveland in the weeks after.

What we saw today from the Obama Administration lays the groundwork for protecting our oceans from the threats they face. It lays out a vision and recommends the adoption of a national policy that highlights the need to protect, maintain and restore ocean, coasts and Great Lakes ecosystems-something this country has never had.

Here are a few details: It proposes establishment of a high-level National Ocean Council co-chaired by the President's Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy to oversee implementation of the policy. It also lays out a detailed work plan for that Council, including calling for the development of strategic action plans (within 6 to 12 months) to address priority issues such as ocean resilience and adaptation in the face of climate change and ocean acidification; regional ecosystem protection and restoration; water quality improvement, particularly from land-based sources; and changing conditions in the Arctic.

These priorities are right on point, and the plan of action is strong.

If adopted, the recommendations in this report will guide the federal government's actions across a range of issues. From overfishing and pollution, to warming temperatures and acidification -- a national ocean policy and plan of action will strengthen the government's ability to tackle each and every one of these challenges. And it helps us be smart about the way we use our ocean resources. Right now, our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes are governed by more than 140 laws and 20 different agencies, each with different goals and often conflicting mandates. We cannot continue to let chaos manage the way we rule our seas -- this policy will help restore order.

Take ocean acidification for example -- an issue where NRDC has been on the frontlines (and actually just released a new documentary called Acid Test, narrated by Sigourney Weaver and shown on Discovery's Planet Green in August). What does a national ocean policy do to address this challenge? While most people know that the most important step in protecting our seas from the effects of acidification is to cut carbon dioxide pollution -- they may not know the second step is to make it as healthy as possible so it can be more resilient to the effects. Just like a healthy person is better able to handle an illness, a healthy ocean is better able to withstand additional stress. This policy is the prescription they need.

Overfishing is another great example where a national oceans policy will help -- giving the government a greater ability to revive struggling fish populations (important when worldwide 90 percent of large fish like tuna are already gone) and address destructive fishing practices.

And developing this policy is especially critical now -- as our country moves forward in developing the clean, renewable energy off our coasts for the 21st century. A policy like this can help the government make sure it's protecting ocean resources while moving forward with such development, making sure it's done right from the start.

This list goes on -- in fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find an issue affecting our oceans' health where a national oceans policy wouldn't help. And it doesn't stop at the environment - this policy can also help the economy. Our oceans and Great Lakes are economic engines -- providing more jobs and more economic output than the entire farm sector (contributing more than $230 billion to the nation's GDP annually).

The Obama Administration is charting the course for healthy oceans, and from what we've seen today they're on the right path. We look forward to helping sail the ship.

Join me in sending your support for a national policy for healthy oceans by taking action here.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's blog.

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