Administration unveils sweeping plan to protect the country's oceans

The plan outlines a strategy for improving federal agencies' ability to respond to an oil spill in the Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska.

“Preparing and responding to emergencies related to resource development and marine transportation in the Arctic requires improved coordination, planning, and training; stronger interagency research; and enhanced international cooperation and collaboration,” the plan says.

The recommendation comes as Royal Dutch Shell is preparing to drill in the Arctic. The company, which has been pushing for years for federal approval to drill in the region, has received conditional approval from the Interior Department to drill exploration wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

But the company’s plans to drill in the region have been met with concerns about federal agencies’ ability to respond to a large-scale oil spill in the Arctic.

More broadly, the draft plan calls for improved management of ocean ecosystems; reliance on the best science and data; and better collaboration with various stakeholders and agencies.

“This plan reflects a number of overarching priorities of the Obama Administration — including a commitment to scientific data as an important basis for decision-making and a commitment to transparency and openness as we ensure that the interests of all stakeholders, from recreational beach-goers to fishermen and farmers, are taken into account,” John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the co-chairman of the National Ocean Council, said in a statement.

The plan calls for assessing the vulnerability of various regions to the effects of climate change, including sea-level rise.

“Among other concerns, climate change poses challenges to our national, homeland, and economic security, including rising seas that threaten low‐lying bases, increasing ocean temperatures and acidification that threaten food sources, an increasingly accessible Arctic frontier, and increasing demand for humanitarian aid,” the plan says.

The administration will accept public comment on the plan through Feb. 27, and hopes to finalize the plan in the spring.