Friday, October 2, 2009

The Arctic and the proposed U.S. National Ocean Policy

The September 2009 Interim Report* of the U.S. Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force proposes a National Ocean Policy (pp. 13-17), and identifies “Changing Conditions in the Arctic” (pp. 7, 26, 37) as one of nine priority areas for which strategic action plans should be developed (p. 28). The proposed Policy incorporates the “precautionary approach” and “best available science” among its principles. The Interim Report is open for a 30-day public review and comment period, which ends October 16, 2009.

*NOTE: If the URL for the Interim Report is not responsive, NOAA summarizes some of the report's highlights here.

In the case of the Arctic, the Interim Report calls for the strategic action plan to address “Improvement of the scientific understanding of the Arctic system and how it is changing in response to climate-induced and other changes.” (p. 37).

The Interim Report’s focus on the Arctic is notable and welcome, given the relative dearth of references in other documents leading up to the proposed National Ocean Policy. The slow process leading to an integrated, ecosystem-based national ocean policy traces most recently to two documents: the independent Pew Oceans Commission report in 2003, America’s Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change, and the 2004 report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, titled Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century (whose arctic focus was on fossil-based fuel sources and contaminants concentration). The U.S. Commission was established under the Oceans Act of 2000, PL 106-256, with the mandate to make recommendations for [a] coordinated and comprehensive national ocean policy.” The Act also required the President to prepare a formal response to those recommendations, which reply took the form of the 2004 U.S. Ocean Action Plan (containing one general reference to the Arctic Ocean). President George W. Bush established the U.S. Committee on Ocean Policy (not to be confused with the Commission on Ocean Policy, above) as part of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) by Executive Order EO 13366, effective December 21, 2004.

The Interim Report of September 2009 is a work product of the temporary Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force established by President Obama in a June 12, 2009 memorandum on National Policy for the Oceans, Our Coasts and the Great Lakes. The Task force members comprise senior officials from departments, agencies and offices represented on the Committee on Ocean Policy. CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley toured the U.S. Arctic in August 2009 with NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen, and others.

Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.