Analysis & Opinions - The Boston Globe
Ocean Planning and Massachusetts
A federal proposal modeled on a Massachusetts plan faces criticism
It is de rigeur these political days to claim that anything Massachusetts does is bad for the nation as a whole. Health care aside, a new study shows that the state's adoption of a comprehensive approach to ocean planning is not only good for the environment but also for business. It's a message, however, that is under attack by the energy industry and allies in Congress.
The nation's waters are its last ungoverned area, and many Republicans in Congress want it to be like the Wild West. Instead of bullets and holsters, though, this is all about getting good bait. Literally, honestly, bait.
Here's how it works: Join forces and attack a relatively simple ocean planning effort because it could threaten the sanctity of the business-friendly status quo. Then, call your group something benign like the National Ocean Policy Coalition. And then tell every fisherman that their right to catch is being threatened by the federal government.
There is, in fact, a movement to establish a federal governance system modeled on the plan in Massachusetts. As the oceans become more crowded, those who seek to tap its tremendous resources, or protect its most valued treasures, all compete for space. For years, most ocean planning was done on an ad hoc basis with little consideration of the multitude of stakeholders who might actually have an interest.
That theory is what animates Marine Spatial Planning, MSP, adopted by Massachusetts in 2007 to balance the competing, and all worthy, interests. It guides by process only, by bringing together the economic, environmental, recreational, and governmental players at the front end.
MSP is just a plan for a plan. Even those of us who favor utilizing the ocean for drilling and energy needs can see the good in some planning. So should the industry. On Monday, a first-time study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded MSP increases both economic and conservation benefits. The examination of Massachusetts' offshore wind energy planning showed that utilizing MSP prevents $1 million in losses to the fishing and whale-watching industry, and could increase the energy-sector value by over $10 billion.
Academic studies that prove the obvious — it is more efficient to make the shopping list before heading down the aisle — may be unnecessary if this were simply about the obvious. But the Obama administration now wants the MSP to become a national standard through a proposed National Ocean Policy. The plan to plan is under attack by those who see any regulation as detrimental, academic studies notwithstanding.
People like the oceans; over 50 percent of Americans live near one. The oil industry believes it has much to gain from unregulated ocean space, but Big Oil isn't as sympathetic as Little Fishermen. So those bait-fishers have become the perfect bait to undermine the ocean policy.
ESPN.com fell for it, running an alleged news story that the ocean policy would end "recreational anglers'" rights. They later apologized for the misleading article (it was commentary by a conservative writer). By then, however, the fishermen were angry and that's not a pretty sight.
Trying to manage the unease, the administration made the proposed ocean policy subject to public comment. Those who may be affected by it — groups like the Conservation Law Foundation and the industry coalition — could lay out their concerns. As the comment period ended, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Representative Doc Hastings of Washington, demanded an extension because "the mandatory ocean and coastal zoning initiative. . . could place huge portions of our oceans off limits to all types of recreational and commercial activities." Not true, but it too catered to the fears of fishermen everywhere.
On Wednesday, Hastings held another oversight hearing about whether the ocean policy would be allowed to go forward. He made more than a subtle suggestion that environmental budgets would be held hostage if the answer was yes.
The ranking Democrat on the committee is Ed Markey, who tried mightily to stop the hostility to the sheer notion of planning, and tried to calm fishermen everywhere. He even invoked the cute fish in Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax."
But he is from Massachusetts and nothing good — even when it is good — comes from here.
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