On June 21st, the Northeast Regional Planning Body (RPB), a group of representatives from tribes and federal and state agencies, met in Rhode Island to discuss the next steps in implementing the Northeast Ocean Plan. The RPB was founded in 2012 as part of then-President Obama’s Executive Order (EO) establishing a National Ocean Policy. However, just 36 hours before the meeting, President Trump issued his Executive Order on Ocean Policy, revoking the RPB’s and the processes they have developed over the past six years.
Canceling a discussion and presentation on a widely used data portal which provides habitat use maps on marine life as well as activities like shipping and fishing, members of the RPB instead tried to make sense of the EO that derailed their mission. Tribal leaders questioned whether they would be part of any new federal processes, and federal agents wondered how and if any the work they had done to date would continue to be funded. While some agency representatives tried to spin the proposed changes as only a “speed bump,” others felt it was more of an off-ramp to a new and unknown road. The commitment from Massachusetts and Rhode Island Agency representatives to continue to move forward was laudable, but it remains unclear as to how that will happen.
From balancing coral protections and commercial fishing to finding a low-impact site for the first offshore wind project in the US, the data and work of the Northeast RPB have been instrumental in creating a more collaborative ocean planning process. Yet all of this work is now at risk.
Trump’s latest EO on Ocean Planning very specifically eliminates any language associated with conservation that appeared in the 2010 Obama EO. Gone are references to stewardship, climate change, the vulnerability of marine environments, social justice, conservation, biological diversity, and the “protection, maintenance, and restoration of ocean health.” Instead, the current EO focuses solely on economic and military exploitation of the ocean, specifically mentioning “the lawful use of the ocean by agencies, including [the] United States Armed Forces” and “enhancing America’s energy security.”
According to Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director of WDC-NA, “It is no secret that the current US Administration prioritizes big oil and commerce over conservation, but abandoning protections for the ocean won’t lead to an economic boon for the US, just a global catastrophe for us all.”