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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
Council on Environmental Quality Chairman
April 20, 2004

Jim Connaughton
I'm glad to be here today and am looking forward to taking your questions about today's release of the Preliminary Report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. President Bush is firmly committed to sound management and effective conservation of our ocean and coastal resources to meet our Nation's environmental, economic, and social goals and our Nation's legacy of ocean stewardship. The work of the Commission is an important contribution to help identify the next generation of opportunities to advance this commitment.

Mary, from Los Angeles writes:
What is the next step in terms of Ocean Policy, since the release of the

report? Is this a top priority of the President?

Jim Connaughton
Today's report is "preliminary." Under the Oceans Act of 2000, the preliminary report goes to the nation's governors for comment. After that, the Commission addresses the comments and will complete a final report to send to the President and to Congress for their consideration.

The President and his team (of which I am a proud member), have worked actively on oceans policy issues since the outset of the Administration. The President appointed the Commission in the Summer of 2001 and we have worked to provide the Commission all the resources and expert input they to do their job well.

While awaiting the final report we have actively moved forward with a number of policy initiatives that are very consistent with what you will see in today's document -- protecting corals, working on new and more sensible approaches to protecting commercial fisheries, improved coordination among the many different agencies that deal with these issues. Another good example that is occurring today is the participation of EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt and NOAA Administrator Conrad in the Earth Observation Summit II in Japan. The Bush Administration launched this international effort last year. It includes many of the elements of an ocean observing system that the Commission is preliminarily recommending.

Donna, from Fort Myers writes:
Are there items in the Commission's reports that you don't agree with? For example, setting up a new Cabinet-level National Ocean Council? Is that a position you would be interested in?

Jim Connaughton
We are confident that there will be a lot of common ground on many of the recommendations that the Commissions is proposing. They have spent two and half years working to reconcile differences of opinion among themselves. It seems likely that the governors and after that the Administration and Congress, will raise questions, disagree or suggest alternative approaches to some of the hundreds of recommendations. But that is what the long and deliberate process created by Congress in the Oceans Act was designed to elicit. We will weigh in with our specific views on specific issues such as the Ocean Council after the Commission has completed its final recommendations.

Joy, from Denver writes:
Did you work with or check in on the Commission? Did they brief you on their findings during the past two years? If so have you decided to work to implement any of their reccommendations?

Jim Connaughton
The Commission is an independent body. My office worked to ensure the Commission was receiving all the support and information they needed from the Administration to effectively accomplish their mission. Commission Chair Watkins and Executive Director Kitsos did check in frequently with us to let us know the status of their process as they did with many other interested parties in Congress and outside the federal government. They have run exceptionally open process for all interested. Most senior officials, political appointees and career professionals, in the Bush Administration participated in nearly all of the Commission hearings around the country.

Early on I was pleased to host the Commissioners for a welcome reception at the White House at which White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card provided remarks and encouraged their work. I was also pleased to testify before them in Chicago at the Shedd Aquarium -- one of my favorite policy subjects, in one of my favorite places, in one of my favorite towns.

Jennifer, from Harrisburg, PA writes:
I am a fourth grade teacher,and with Earth Day approaching, what advice do you have for young adults in terms of the environment? What would you tell them to do?

Jim Connaughton
Thank you for this most important of questions. There are three fundamentals to making real gains in ocean conservation and protection in the coming decades: education, education, and education. Your role and that of your student is critical -- a point the Commission highlighted as a top priority. My advice is therefore straightforward:

1) learn more about the oceans and how you rely on them in your every day life

2) personally experience the coast and oceans in all their wonder -- in particular by seeing and learning what lies beneath the surface -- it will change your life

3) find ways to do your personal part to help conserve and protect them -- Washington and State capitals are important places for making policy, but the action happens with you in your own communities and the vacation places you visit and enjoy.

Mark, from New Mexico writes:
Mr. Bush has bent over backwards to roll back pollution laws. How has this affected our oceans? Do the oil companies run your department like they do the EPA? Do you fight for the people or the corporations that pollute?

Jim Connaughton
I appreciate your concern, but you have the facts backwards. The centerpiece of President Bush environmental policies is to ensure they are making the quality of their environment and the communities where they live better. My mandate from the President is to work with all of the federal agencies to be sure this happens. I am proud of the hard work of some of the most dedicated appointed and long-time career experts who are:

--bringing us to a new era of cleaner air quality by implementing tough new health-based standards announced just last week by EPA, by moving forward with a plan that will finally control pollution from the nation's old coal power plants (without having to resort to legions of lawyers, regulators, and consultants in endless conflict

--cleaning up and redeveloping thousands of abandoned industrial sites in the urban areas that sorely need cleanup and the jobs that come from modern redevelopment

--improving the conditions on our treasured National Parks

--restoring the health of our nation's public forests

--dedicating billions of dollars to significantly reducing the runoff of pollution from farms that can contribute to impacts on the oceans and coastal areas.

As for those oil companies, we are implementing new regulations that will dramatically reduce the sulfur in the fuel they provide for diesel vehicles, and we are cutting the pollution from every major category of diesel engine sources for the first time.

Not only will you and I benefit from these policies, but our children and our older parents will too!

Tarn writes:
How does your job differ from the Administrator of the EPA?

Jim Connaughton
First, my good friend and colleague EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt outranks me!

Second and more to the point, I am a senior advisor to the President and work in the White House. My job is to coordinate the development of environmental and natural resource policy across the federal government. This involves interaction with EPA, the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, Commerce/NOAA, Energy, Transportation, State (on international issues) and the Army Corps of Engineers among others. When there are disagreements, I work to either mediate them to consensus or ensure that we are fairly presenting the most difficult issues to the President for his decisions. I also keep the President informed of major day to day developments in the agencies. The Cabinet officers also directly communicate regularly with the President. My office follows up on any issue coming out of those meetings.

Finally, and most interesting for me, my office ensures that we understand and take into account the environmental and natural resource implications of the "non-environmental" policy area, such as energy or transportation policy, or even tax policy or national security. Almost all of these areas intersect with the environment in some way.

Holly, from Bethesda, MD writes:
Jim, I read that you like to sail. Do you go sailing in DC? Where is the neatest place you have ever gone sailing? I plan on learning someday.

Jim Connaughton
I have sailed on the Potomac River in downtown DC and of course further out in the Chesapeake Bay -- one of our nation's natural treasures.

One of the neatest places I have sailed was to take a very shallow draft skipjack-type schooner into the flats and mangrove areas off Key West. Going into one of nature's nurseries quietly under sail is fitting. It was there that I introduced my son (now 12) and daughter (now 9) to the wonders that lie beneath the sea in a very kid-welcoming setting. We also were able to sea kayak through the mangroves and see first hand how islands can develop. My kids are inspired lovers of the marine world for life. As a result, my son and I recently obtained our SCUBA certifications to take this to the next level -- I'll need to add to my bio!

Don't plan on learning to sail -- go out and do it! It's in your backyard and will connect you to our shared community in ways that you cannot currently imagine.

Jim Connaughton
Thanks for all of your questions. I urge all of you to take the time to poke around on the various agencies' web-sites to get a stronger picture of what your government is doing not just on ocean policy, but on all of the areas that are making America an even greater place to live and to enjoy the out of doors. I am privileged to serve this President and equally privileged to work with the career government officials who have dedicated their lives day-to-day in making a difference in service to you. When you encounter them, please give them the credit and thanks they deserve. And thank you for your demonstrated interest in this important topic.

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