National Ocean Policy is an executive power grab

Perhaps the simplest way to describe this policy and council is to envision a national zoning board for oceans and all of the inland communities and activities that might affect the oceans. You’ve probably dealt with a local zoning board that keeps order between residential neighborhoods and busy commercials areas. You may not always agree with their decisions, but we can all appreciate local control over such matters.

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President Obama’s National Ocean Policy takes zoning to a massive scale, giving Washington pencil pushers more power to decide what activities are acceptable in the ocean zones they create. And when federal agencies are authorizing activities, the converse can be assumed: they will close off other activities, and limit authorized activities only to approved zones. The uncertainty that results will further limit economic growth.

Coastal communities have already felt the pain of tough economic times. Fishermen are having a hard time making ends meet and many are seeing their harvest levels reduced, while their cost of doing business continues to rise. The House subcommittee I chair has heard testimony describing how harvest levels have been driven down by the lack of agency-funded stock assessments and the closing of fishing grounds. Now, this proposed new policy threatens to take more money from fishery surveys, and will create more closures.

To make matters worse, this new National Ocean Policy will reach far inland with new zoning plans, and could use ocean water quality as a way of threatening even farming and forestry practices.

The president’s plan enhances uncertainty by giving precedent to ecosystem health over the economic impact of human activities, even if those activities were previously authorized or occurring in an area. That means government bureaucrats, working behind closed doors, may decide that their views on climate change or water quality – both priorities in the policy – will win out over the longstanding interests of people who have depended for decades on the oceans and waterways for their livelihood.

Imagine putting those decisions, along with the vague and undefined policy goals of the executive order, in the hands of special interest groups whose agenda is to abolish virtually all human activity. The litigation and court challenges will be endless, and the permits that fishermen and coastal businesses need to continue making a living will be hard to come by.

The president’s plan, which has flown under the transparency and accountability radar, lists nearly 60 milestones for federal agencies to accomplish this year as they implement the policy, with another 92 milestones slated for 2013. Yet no federal agency has requested funding for these activities. That means existing missions and management activities of several federal agencies will be put at risk because federal dollars will be re-purposed to support this policy.

President Obama’s National Ocean Policy should be authorized by specific legislation and funded through the regular appropriations process. Implementing this power grab through an executive order, with funds diverted from other Congressionally-appropriated programs is simply wrong. Existing laws already manage fisheries, and we don’t need a costly, massive, new, job-destroying layer of bureaucracy to centralize more power in Washington, and jeopardize the liberties of hard-working citizens. Until Congress receives answers to the questions we have asked about the authority and funding for this National Ocean Policy, I will continue to oppose this policy.

Rep. Fleming (R-La.) is chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs.