Zoning for the ocean?


Author: Daniel Himebaugh

The Obama Administration recently announced the release of the Final Recommendations of the Ocean Policy Task Force.  The Final Recommendations propose a "National Policy" for comprehensive marine planning to be overseen by a new federal agency: the National Ocean Council (NOC).  Notably, the National Policy identifies marine "spatial planning" as a priority objective.  According to the Administration, "Marine spatial planning offers a comprehensive, integrated approach to planning and managing uses and activities" on the nation's coasts.  The core of the idea is to commission regional planning bodies to set policies and rules regulating marine uses.

It remains to be seen how marine spatial planning will affect productive coastal activity.  However, the Final Recommendations indicate that "countless commercial, recreational, scientific, energy, and security activities, which often occur in or near areas set aside and managed for conservation and resource protection," may be obstacles to the effective implementation of the National Policy.  This seems to be an indirect way of saying that fishing, boating, energy exploration, and military exercises may be curbed in the name of environmentalism.

Furthermore, the Final Recommendations set forth a number of "National Guiding Principles" for marine spatial planning, one of which explicitly adopts the precautionary principle as a guiding doctrine for the program.  We have objected to the precautionary principle as an illogical approach to policymaking several times on this blog.  (See here, here, and here).  Frankly, it's unusual for a federal policy initiative to adopt the precautionary approach so forthrightly, which leads me to believe that the National Policy could quickly become a magnet for controversy when it begins to take effect.

For more, see the Administration's press release here, and the full text of the Final Recommendations here.