Clinton signs act to set up ocean policy commission

Aug. 8, 2000
EDGARTOWN, Mass. -- President Clinton has signed new bipartisan legislation which will set up a commission to recommend policies for the protection and sustainable use of America's oceans and coastal resources.

President appeals to Congress to provide $429 million

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EDGARTOWN, Mass. -- President Clinton has signed new bipartisan legislation which will set up a commission to recommend policies for the protection and sustainable use of America's oceans and coastal resources. The Oceans Act of 2000, signed on Aug. 7, builds on the administration's efforts to protect US beaches and coasts, restore fisheries and marine mammals, strengthen coastal economies, and expand undersea exploration.

The president also will call on Congress to fully fund his Lands Legacy budget for fiscal year 2001, which proposes record funding to help clean up the water bodies.

The Clintons were in Martha's Vineyard for three days, raising money for Hilary Clinton's Senate race in New York.

The signing of the act closely follows a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study. The annual study, which covers US beach closings and policies in 1999, reports that beaches are still on a ten-year polluting trend, although beach closings still are down from 1998.

Nearly half of all new development in the United States occurs along the coast. Rising demand for seafood is driving some species toward extinction. And polluted runoff causes toxic algae blooms, forces beach closures, and threatens marine life and human health, Clinton said. The Oceans Act of 2000 aims to meet these and other new challenges by developing broad-based recommendations to strengthen and coordinate federal ocean policy.

The commission will be responsible for a broad study of federal ocean policy, with reports to Congress and the White House due 18 months after the group begins work.

The 16-member commission will not start until the day Clinton leaves office in January. He will appoint the membership through a formula that gives him four unrestricted appointees, and his pick of 12 others from a list approved by Congress.

The arrangement is designed to represent fishing, mining and other industries that depend on the ocean. The board is also supposed to include state and local government officials, environmentalists, scientists and academics.

Through his Lands Legacy initiative, Clinton is proposing a record $429 million in fiscal year 2001, a 159 percent increase, for ocean and coastal protection. This includes $100 million for a new program to help coastal states address the environmental impacts of existing offshore oil and gas development; $159 million to states for other programs to protect, restore, and revitalize coastal areas; $100 million to help states and tribes restore Pacific Northwest salmon; $35 million to protect and expand marine sanctuaries; and $15 million to protect and rebuild coral reefs. However, current budget bills approved by the House and Senate fall far short of the president's request.

To take effect January 20, 2001, the Act:

  • Creates a commission on Ocean Policy with 16 members, including representatives of state and local government, academia, ocean-related industries, and the conservation and scientific communities. Members will be appointed by the president, with 12 members drawn from nominees submitted by Congress.
  • Directs the commission to examine federal ocean policy, and environmental and economic trends affecting oceans and coasts, and within 18 months of its appointment submit recommendations to Congress and the president.
  • Directs the commission to recommend ways to promote responsible stewardship of fisheries and other marine resources; protection of the marine environment; enhancement of marine-related commerce and transportation; expansion of human knowledge of the marine environment; cooperation among federal, state and local governments, and with the private sector; protection of life and property; and preservation of America's international leadership on ocean issues.
  • Directs the commission to hold public hearings (including at least one in the Northeast, the Southeast, the Southwest, the Northwest, the Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska), release a draft report for public review, and consult with the Governors of coastal states.
  • Calls on the president, within 120 days of receiving the commission's report, to submit proposals to Congress for the responsible use and stewardship of ocean and coastal resources; and, beginning in September, 2001, to report biennially to Congress on federal ocean programs and projected funding over the coming five years.

Two years ago, Clinton and Vice President Gore presided over the National Ocean Conference in Monterey, California, which brought together for the first time the full array of ocean interests -- from scientists and conservationists to representatives of government and industry. At the conference, the president announced new steps to protect coral reefs and rebuild fisheries, and extended through 2012 the moratorium on offshore oil and gas leasing off most of America's coast.

The president committed to work with Congress to start a group to help restore and protect the country's ocean resources. More than 30 years have passed since the Stratton Commission, the first such panel, issued recommendations that laid the foundation for federal oceans policy -- including the establishment of national marine sanctuaries, management of marine fisheries, and creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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