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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Jim Connaughton
CEQ Chairman
December 17, 2004

Jim Connaughton

I'm pleased to be back again for Ask the White House, especially to talk about a subject of personal passion to me - our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes. Today, the Bush Administration is releasing its Ocean Action Plan in response to the final report and recommendations of the Presidentially-appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy that we received this past September. The Commission worked for three years to provide a substantial analysis of the problems we face, and today the President is leading with a substantial set of solutions. I was pleased to join Commission Chairman Watkins, Commerce Department Secretary Evans, NOAA Administrator Lautenbacher, and Interior Department Assistant Secretary Scarlett in a meeting with President Bush to discuss these important issues and the path forward. At the end of the meeting the President signed a new Executive Order creating a Cabinet-Level Committee on Ocean Policy to strong management from the top, accountability for results, and more effective integration of our policies. So let's turn to your questions.

Barry, from Des moines IOWA writes:
Jim,Greetings from Iowa. How long does the commission take to compile this report? Is it a yearly event? Who is on the commission and how are they picked for this?

Jim Connaughton
President Bush appointed the Commission in 2001. They worked for three years. We received their final report in September. With the release of the President's Ocean Action Plan today, their work is over. We are all deeply appreciative of their voluntary service on a subject of such importance to all Americans.

The last time there was a Commission like this was 35 years ago. If we do our work right at the federal and state level, we can sustain our efforts and will not need another Commission to tell us the issues that need attention.

Mathew, from Topeka Kansas writes:
Mr. Connaughton, what does CEQ stand for and what is the difference between your office and the EPA? Do you work with the EPA to put this report together? or are you entirely separated from them? thank you for your explanation.

Jim Connaughton
CEQ stands for the Council on Environmental Quality. I am the President's senior environmental advisor. For more information about my job, you should check out the CEQ's website at /ceq. I work closely with all of the agencies that are responsible for environmental and natural resource protection including: EPA, Interior, Agriculture, Energy, Army Corps of Engineers. I also make sure that the government's own operations -- such as military bases, energy department facilities, and transportation projects -- pay close attention to environmental protection.

More than a dozen agencies helped us develop the Ocean Action Plan. Even more will be responsible for carrying it out. The new Executive Order which should be online shortly lists all of them.

Chris, from Corpus Christi, Texas writes:
Mr. Connaughton, What is your personal thoughts on the Ocean Commision Report and What are some of the key thing the US is doing to make the Ocean and cleaner place. With oil spilling by shipwrecks and accidents, it seems that the ocean's future is sure to be a grim one.

Jim Connaughton
Thanks Chris. I am a "saltwater" guy so I have strong personal feelings about the importance of the Commission's work. I started young loving the beach -- who doesn't? I loved the Jacques Cousteau special we saw as kids. I later learned to windsurf, sail and snorkel. And most recently, I and my son received our certifications in scuba. I, like so many others, look forward to "going even deeper" through the technologies that will enable us to see to the ocean's greatest depths.

The Oceans Commission gave the Administration, Congress and the nations Governors 212 ideas for making the oceans better and cleaner. The President's Ocean Action Plan highlights the need for stronger science and improved public awareness of our oceans, greater conservation and smarter strategies for how we use and enjoy our marine resources, protection of coral reefs, and improvements to our marine transportation system. You will see a lot of detail on these points in the President's Ocean Action Plan which will also be available on the web shortly at

I am very optimistic about our oceans' future, especially given the strong consensus that is emerging about what needs to be done. It will take a lot of work, by many people, but I am confident of future success in light of important regional efforts taking place in Florida, in California, in the Gulf, in the Pacific Northwest, in New England, in the Chesapeake Bay States, and most recently in the Great Lakes.

Education is getting better, recreational users are better stewards, and our local governments are doing a better job planning for the future in partnership with the federal government.

Henry, from Washington DC writes:
I enjoy swimming at the beach. Sometimes the water isn't very clean and my Mom is reluctant to let me swim.What is the government doing to improove sea water quality?

Jim Connaughton
My family loves the beaches near DC -- Ocean City, Dewey, and Rehoboth. Improving water quality and the condition of our beaches is important.

Just last month, as part of our "Clean Beaches Plan," the Environmental Protection Agency set tougher new standards to prevent bacteria contamination of water near beaches. We are also spending a lot more money -- $10 million -- to help states monitor water quality at beaches so they can better understand what is going on and take action to address any problems.

Conni, from St. Louis MO writes:
How does the Ocean Commission report affect the citizens of the US who aren't by the Ocean? Are there general environmental recommendations within it as well?

Jim Connaughton
I am so pleased to get a question about oceans from St. Louis!

Conni, your question focuses on an issue that the Oceans Commission and we believe is very important to highlight. Oceans matter to everyone. We all need to be responsible stewards of their care.

People all across the country enjoy seafood. They should know about the place where it comes from.

More than 95 percent of U.S. overseas trade by volume is carried by ships on the seas. Ocean related commerce supports over 28 million jobs. So the oceans are critical to our economy.

The oceans are an important element of our national and homeland security.

Many Americans (and foreigners) find recreation and solace along our nations coasts.

Importantly, Americans living inland also can have a significant impact on the quality of our coastal waters because most streams and rivers ultimately end up there. More than 30 states drain into the Gulf of Mexico. Smarter agricultural practices, highway design and water supply and treatment in those states can significantly reduce the burden and improve the condition of our land and water hundreds of miles away.

Gijs, from Amsterdam writes:
Was this a commission that looked at the oceans as a whole or just the coasts of the United States? I think we'd all be better served if we were working on this together, rather than in isolation. How would you respond?

Jim Connaughton
Thank you for the interest from abroad. The Commission was chartered to focus on issues relating to coasts and ocean water under U.S. authority.

You are correct that we must look at these issues more broadly. The Commission did venture a little beyond its charter with respect to issues relating to the use of marine resources around the world and the need for a integrated ocean observation system worldwide.

The President does not have the same limitation, and so we have included a longer discussion of international ocean issues in the Ocean Action Plan.

The U.S. was pleased to lead the effort to ensure that oceans were on the agenda of the World Summit on Sustainable Development two years ago and to launch a series of international partnerships to address common issues including, for example, one called "White Water to Blue Water" to promote watershed management in the Gulf of Mexico and the Wider Caribbean.

A few weeks ago, I participated in an event announcing a new partnership with Australia, the State of Florida and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to improve the natural ability of coral reefs to survive and recover from stresses in the natural environment.

And last month, the U.S led an international effort to prohibit the destructive fishing practice of "shark finning" -- cutting the fins off sharks and throwing the fish back in the water -- in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Gulf of Mexico.

There is much that we are, can, and must do together!

Ashely, from Chicago writes:
Did you personally give the President the report? And what did he saydo when you gave it to him? It must be cool working with him

Jim Connaughton
Yes, I personally sat down with President today.

He was very happy that we were finally launching his Ocean Action Plan. He told us we have all the reports we need now, and he wants action.

He is a lifelong fisherman (and his dog Barney is now too). So we talked a lot about how important it is to manage our fisheries responsibly.

He is very committed to these issues.

You are right. It is way cool working with him.

Jim Connaughton
I am sad to say the hour is over. I appreciate your enthusiasm and focus on the issues that matter most to you. I hope you get involved personally in doing your part to help us conserve and protect our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes. Every little bit will count. See you by the seaside!

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