Obama’s Ocean Policy Initiative: Washington’s latest power grab

As if the sputtering U.S. economy weren’t in enough trouble already, the Obama administration is cooking up a new scheme that will extend the heavy hand of Washington to somewhere it has never gone before.

Unveiled with precious little fanfare on July 19 in the form of an Executive Order, the White House’s Ocean Policy Initiative will subject America’s waterways — oceans, rivers, bays, estuaries, and the Great Lakes — to federal zoning.  Under the scheme, these areas would be managed according to the Orwellian-sounding notion of “coastal and marine spatial planning.”  As an unnamed administration official told the Los Angeles Times: “This sets the nation on a path of much more comprehensive planning to both conservation and sustainable use of [ocean] resources.”

An elaborate, multi-layered bureaucratic structure would oversee all of this. Nine regional commissions, composed of federal, state, and tribal officials, would decide which commercial and recreational activities are appropriate.  Their recommendations, however, would have to be approved by a newly created National Ocean Council, which the White House says will “strengthen ocean governance and coordination.”  The council will consist of spatial planners drawn from the likes of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautic and Space Agency (NASA), and the departments of Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services.

State and local officials, hoping to have some input on zoning decisions affecting their jurisdictions, will soon find that the deck has been stacked against them.  To cite but one glaring example: Both the Commerce Department and NOAA are represented on the National Ocean Council.  But NOAA is a division of the Commerce Department.  The feds get two votes for the price of one.

As if on cue, NOAA dutifully rolled out its own “Next-Generation Strategic Plan” weeks in advance of Obama’s Executive Order. In language that would have done honor to the late Eastern Bloc’s most renowned central planners, NOAA proclaimed that, “Comprehensive planning will address competing uses to protect coastal communities and resources from the impacts of hazards and land-based pollution on vulnerable ecosystems.”

The scope of what the administration is putting together is no less ambitious than its healthcare and cap-and-trade initiatives. Industries — from agriculture, timber, and shipping to fishing, mining, and oil and gas — stand to be affected.  The inclusion of the Great Lakes in the plan signals the reach of the new policy.  Indeed, the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River Valleys will be targeted every bit as much as coastal North Carolina or Alaska.

Federal departments and agencies included in the plan are directed to “take all such action as necessary to implement the policy set forth” in the Executive Order.  The EPA — far and away the nation’s most powerful regulatory agency — could, for example, determine that emissions from power plants are harming the oceans.  And if Congress fails to pass a cap-and-trade bill, the EPA could use the pretext of protecting the oceans to clamp down on greenhouse-gas emissions as another extra-legislative way to pursue the administration’s global-warming agenda.