November 4, 2009
Economic Value of Alaska Waters Stressed by Begich during Oceans Subcommittee Hearing
Probes Oceans Zoning Effort Considered by Administration
While welcoming increased attention to the health of America's oceans, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today expressed concerns about whether limited federal resources currently used to manage fisheries and other economic activities from the nation's oceans could be at risk from changing national priorities
Begich raised those concerns and others during a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard on an interim report of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force appointed earlier this summer by President Obama. The task force held a hearing in Alaska this summer and issued a preliminary report about possible changes to federal management of the nation's oceans.
"Alaska's oceans provide more than half the nation's seafood landings annually, worth over $4 billion and which drive the economy of our coastal communities from the Southeast panhandle to the Aleutian Islands, but this is not reflected in the interim report," Begich said. "Neither is the fact that our waters support strategic routes of international commerce, attract over a million tourists annually, and that Alaska's outer continental shelf is a potential storehouse of oil and gas to help meet the nation's energy security.
"While I welcome the increased attention to the health of America's oceans, the economic impacts also need to be considered. I'm also concerned that federal dollars currently used to manage fisheries and other ocean resources could be shifted to a new ocean council led by the White House." he said.
The task force report proposes numerous recommendations to improve oversight of the nation's oceans, many of which Begich said he supports. But without further details, two recommendations are troubling.
For example, the task force proposes creation of a new National Ocean Council which presumably would be overseen by the Council on Environmental Quality, a White House agency. As currently envisioned the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - the federal agency now changed with ocean management - would not have a seat on the Council.
"NOAA currently does a good job managing federal marine resources in Alaska and I'll have heartburn taking limited funds from them without a good explanation about why it's necessary," Begich said.
A second recommendation Begich expressed concern about is a proposal for "marine spatial planning," essentially zoning in the oceans. The senator said Alaska's marine resources already are generally well managed and imposing a "one size fits all" zoning scheme on current management efforts is unworkable. He called for an economic analysis of any spatial plan that is considered for the nation's offshore areas.
Begich praised other findings of the task force, including the need for more science to address the health of the nation's oceans; the attention placed on the changing Arctic and the need for additional resources for the Coast Guard. The senator already has introduced legislation calling for additional Coast Guard icebreaking vessels and additional bases in the north to meet new needs as a result of global climate change.
Among the witnesses who appeared before the subcommittee today were the principle members of the Task Force: Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality; NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco; and Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen.
From a Senator Mark Begich press release
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