Compass: New federal ocean policy bodes ill for Alaska

By REP. CHARISSE MILLETTMay 11, 2013 

Alaskans today have tremendous potential opportunities that can provide lasting benefits for decades to come. Plentiful energy and mineral resources, new Arctic shipping lanes, vibrant fisheries, and a bustling tourism industry are but a few of the areas that could all combine to usher in a new era of unprecedented economic and societal prosperity for the people of Alaska and beyond.

Unfortunately, prospects for this bright future could potentially be delayed if not derailed as a result of President Obama's issuance of the July 2010 National Ocean Policy Executive Order and the recently-released National Ocean Policy Final Implementation Plan.

Most troubling is the requirement that federal entities implement a national ocean zoning plan known as "Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning to "better manage" a host of commercial and recreational activities and reduce what are said to be conflicts among incompatible human activities. The Interior Department has noted that the Coastal and Marine Spatial Plans "will serve as an overlay for decisions made under existing regulatory mandates" and "assist the [Bureau of Ocean Energy Management]...in making informed decisions."

New government-staffed "regional planning bodies" overseen by a 54-member White House-led National Ocean Council, are to develop "marine plans" by 2017 that may determine who gets to do what where on the water and even on land. Even though Alaska has chosen not to participate, the federal government has already proceeded ahead with plans to create a regional planning body for the region, having last year identified seven officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior alone to participate in CMSP activity in Alaska.

Policy supporters and the final implementation plan itself assert that the initiative does not introduce any new regulations. Yet, in addition to the zoning plan, the recommendations that were adopted in the Executive Order plainly state that effective implementation will "require clear and easily understood requirements and regulations, where appropriate, that include enforcement as a critical component."

Furthermore, the final plan requires federal agencies to take actions including the adoption of Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) performance measures and incorporation of EBM into federal environmental planning and review processes, reactivation and repopulation of the National Marine Sanctuary Site Evaluation List, and the protection of millions of acres of federal lands.

Other developments indicate that the policy is already impacting prospects for energy development in Alaska. The administration's offshore oil and gas leasing program for 2012-2017 delays previously proposed lease sales offshore Alaska until at least 2016 and calls for "targeted" rather than area-wide leasing in the Alaskan Arctic.

Few economic sectors are as important to Alaska as energy. Alaska's offshore waters hold an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and drilling in these waters could generate an estimated average of 55,000 new jobs, $145 billion in new payroll, and $193 billion in government revenue over the next fifty years. The continued viability of the Trans-Alaska pipeline is dependent on access to these resources, as well as onshore deposits located in areas such as the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and ANWR.

At a time when efforts here in the state have been re-doubled to move energy and economic development forward, the National Ocean Policy may emerge as the latest regulatory tool for those opposed to such progress to stand in the way.

The National Ocean Council itself has acknowledged that the undertaking "may create a level of uncertainty and anxiety among those who rely on these resources and may generate questions about how they align with existing processes, authorities, and budget challenges." In addition, it has recognized the "complexity of organizing, managing, and implementing the National Ocean Policy."

When Alaska first became a state 53 years ago, the federal government made promises to relinquish lands that it subsequently failed to keep. With another potential land grab on the horizon, Alaskans must now unite and urge leaders in Washington to hit the brakes on this policy before it is too late. Nothing less than the future and well-being of our state may be at stake.


Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, has served in the state House of Representatives since 2009.

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