Report from Governmental Affairs

Saving the Seas

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This column is written by the ABA Governmental Affairs Office and discusses advocacy efforts by the ABA relating to issues being addressed by Congress and the executive branch of the federal government.

The ABA is urging Congress and President Bush to adopt a new national oceans policy to protect the nation’s marine resources and to enhance the U.S. role in international initiatives on the issue.

The United States controls more than 4 million square miles of ocean and related activities that provide benefits valued at $117 billion to the U.S. economy and create more than 2 million jobs.

“Congress has not comprehensively reviewed the nation’s oceans policies in over 30 years, and it needs to, both legally and substantively,” says Robin K. Craig, a professor at Indiana University School of Law in Indiana­polis who chairs the Marine Resources Com­mittee in the ABA Section of Environment, Energy and Resources. She co-wrote three recommendations on oceans policy that were approved in August by the ABA House of Delegates.

Craig says U.S. marine resources are administered by 11 of the 15 Cabinet-level departments, resulting in a “myriad of poorly coordinated and sometimes contradictory laws and policies.” Because of the divergent interests involved, she says, Congress is unlikely to comprehensively address oceans policy unless the ABA and other strong neutral voices urge it to do so.

The three ABA recommendations were sponsored by the Standing Committee on Environ­mental Law. The first urges Con­gress to pass legislation designating a single federal agency to develop a national oceans policy to protect the integrity of marine ecosystems and ensure ecologically sustainable use and development of marine resources. That position is consistent with recent recommendations issued by the U.S. Com­mis­sion on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission.

The second ABA recommendation urges Congress to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act to ensure continued viability of commercially and recreationally important fish stocks. The policy also recommends eliminating subsidies and legal procedures that encourage overfishing; funding programs to improve knowledge of living marine resources; and cre­ating a statutory, scientifically supported national system of marine protected areas.

The third ABA recommendation urges the U.S. to promote international efforts to protect the oceans and their resources. This includes U.S. ratification of the U.N. Con­vention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention for the Conservation and Man­age­ment of Highly Migra­tory Fish Stocks in the Wes­tern and Central Pacific Ocean, and the Internation­al Con­vention for the Pre­vention of Pollution from Ships.

“Two separate distinguished panels have concluded that the oceans are in peril and that major legal restructuring is long overdue in order to address this situation,” says R. Kinnan Golemon of Austin, Texas, who chairs the Standing Committee on Environmental Law.

Action on the Water Front

In December 2004, President Bush issued an executive order establishing the Committee on Ocean Policy as part of the Council on Environmental Quality to improve the internal management of federal activities in oceanrelated matters. The administration also announced its intent to seek passage of legislation that would codify the establishment and purposes of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Several bills aimed at restructuring NOAA are pending in Congress. They include proposals to reorganize NOAA as a part of the Department of Commerce and to establish NOAA as an independent agency.

Rhonda McMillion is editor of Washington Letter, an ABA Governmental Affairs Office publication.

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