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Trump ocean policy applauded

By:  Scott McLendon,


Local industry representatives applaud President Donald Trump’s reversal last week of his predecessor’s efforts to protect oceans, while conservationists are expressing concern.

Trump’s new policy focuses on using the world’s oceans for expanded business opportunities, while the Barack Obama administration’s 2010 National Ocean Policy or Marine Spatial Planning initiative aimed to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems.

Trump said he is “rolling back excessive bureaucracy” and focusing on growing the ocean economy to create jobs.

His executive order replaces the National Ocean Council, which brought together federal departments and committees that work on ocean issues, with a committee that will focus on science and technology and resource management.

Ocean-related industries are supporting Trump’s effort to eliminate government intrusion while conservation groups say it’s another example of the president’s disregard for the environment.

The original policy was, in part, inspired by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the hardships coastal communities faced in its wake.

The new executive order focuses on industries that use these waterways, such as oil and natural gas companies. It encourages the use of more drilling and more industrial utilization of oceans and coastal regions.

These changes are welcomed by National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi, who said the Obama initiative caused concern for the offshore energy industry.

“The offshore oil and gas industry and many others have largely viewed the MSP initiative as an uber-bureaucratic ‘solution’ to a government self-imposed problem,” said Luthi. “In addition, not all stakeholders and activities were treated equally.”

He said the offshore energy industry has successfully operated side by side with other ocean users without major conflict.

The Thibodaux-based Gulf Economic Survival Team also heaped support on Trump’s change of emphasis. Executive Director Lori LeBlanc called the previous order burdensome, over-reaching and a major threat to the nation’s economy.

“President Obama’s 2010 National Ocean Policy was ill-conceived, unnecessary and an unauthorized top-down bureaucracy that failed any test of agency accountability and has been operating without any statutory or budgetary authority,” said LeBlanc.

She said the policy threatened new permitting hurdles that would impose further delays, uncertainty and burdensome conditions to the oil and gas industry, all to the detriment of jobs and economic growth.

But David Wilmont, president of Ocean Champions, a nonprofit political group committed to ocean protection, says the change of direction is unfortunate.

“Ten years ago there was a big effort on both sides of the aisle, believe it or not, to try to take a look at our oceans,” said Wilmont. “We had nothing equivalent to a Clean Water Act or a Clean Air Act for our oceans. There was no vision for our oceans.”

Wilmont said that under the second President Bush there was a push to look at what’s happening in the oceans surrounding the country. Similar recommendations were submitted by Democrats and Republicans, but they couldn’t agree on a definitive plan.

“While Congress couldn’t agree on what to do, when President Obama came in, we ended up with this National Ocean Policy,” said Wilmont. “This was really nothing more than coordinating federal agencies before problems arise. It also brought in the states, the local governments and the tribal nations so they could work together and figure things out with fishing and oil companies before a big problem occurs.”

The policy was working well in areas like the Mid-Atlantic and New England, he said.

“It was working where people wanted it to work,” said Wilmont. “There was no enforcement mechanism; nothing could be jammed down anyone’s throat. Bottom line is that it’s a shame that what was working and in place is now removed. It really speaks volumes for the situation we’re in.”

He said that the nation doesn’t want to address long-term problems.

“You saw that with the BP oil spill and with Katrina, which of course was tied to environmental issues as well,” said Wilmont. “We know all of this is connected. It’s discouraging that not everyone sees the relationships among all of these issues, how they’re connected and how the short-term view on this is so dangerous and damaging for all the regions of our country. There’s no simple solution and it’s not going to change anytime soon.”

Wilmont says his organization will continue to work in a pragmatic way to elect pro-ocean candidates who will elevate these issues so progress can be made for the whole country.

“I honestly believe that even in a region like the Gulf of Mexico, the industries will be set back by this type of policy because it discourages the coordination, discussion, identification of problems and the types of things that can avoid the problems in the first place,” Wilmont said.