The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 17, 2004

Press Briefing by Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality James Connaughton on U.S. Oceans Action Plan
James S. Brady Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EST

MR. DUFFY: We'll begin the on-the-record briefing, off-camera. This is the honorable James Connaughton. He's the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality. He will brief you on the report on U.S. oceans and our oceans action plan.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Thanks, Trent. Good afternoon, everybody. I just want to let you know of another action that the President took today. Obviously, there's other activity going on of high consequence, but what I'm about to talk to you about is of great consequence in terms of our domestic policy and our domestic strategies, as well as our international relationships, and that has to do with the future health and welfare of our oceans, and what it means to our nation and the world.

Today the President is releasing his Ocean Action Plan, which is in response to the final report and recommendations of the presidentially appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. That commission was chaired by former Energy Secretary Admiral James D. Watkins. They provided us about three months ago a 800-page set of recommendations that was a result of three years of labor on their part. I think, in sum, the commission provided us a substantial analysis of the problems we face when it comes to our oceans, and with the action today, the President is leading with a substantial set of solutions.

The President is going to advocate for a comprehensive national approach to the responsible use and stewardship of our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes over the next generation. We met today in the Oval Office with Admiral Watkins, with Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, with the Under Secretary of NOAH -- the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration -- and with the Assistant Secretary of the Interior who handles policy, management and budget, Lynn Scarlet, to discuss these actions and to sign an executive order.

The President signed an executive order today the establishes a new Cabinet-level committee on oceans policy. Their mission is to assure strong management from the top, accountability for results in implementing the action plan, and then a more effective integration of policy. I will chair that committee from the White House, so it will be a White House-led effort.

The action plan highlights a series of legislative, administrative and regional actions that we will immediately undertake. So as you thumb through it, it's about 40 pages. There's a whole list of actions that were ready to go right away; we got all the interagency clearances on that. And then this high-level committee is going to be charged with taking up the development and implementation of plans for the significant longer-term agenda that the commission gave to us in their more than 200 recommendations. And that's what the commission had directed. They gave us a list of things they knew would take some time for development; they asked for this Cabinet-level process; we're giving it, we're providing it; and then this group will have specific deadlines and work plans to get the rest of the work done.

Let me just highlight a few elements to give you a feel for items that are in the action plan. In addition to establishing the Cabinet-level committee, we are going to be developing an Oceans Research Priorities Plan, so in the next four months we're going to set priorities, because the ocean science effort has been kind of ad hoc to date, and then, from that we'll be developing an implementation strategy that we hope will work into our conversations with the Hill both on programs and on budgets, as we look into the '07 budget in the next cycle.

We are going to build an Integrated Ocean Operation System. When we took office there were about 150 monitoring buoys in our seas giving us a sense of the conditions of the oceans. As we stand here today, we have now built up a system -- a network system of buoys of 1,500, and when we're done in 2006, we will have 3,000 monitoring buoys around the world. I call them technological dolphins -- they dive under the water, they go with the currents and flows. They take measurements for a couple weeks, and they come back up again, report back to us by satellite, and we get the data instantaneously. It's really a remarkable network, and we're working with leaders around the world to construct this.

We're going to be developing and deploying state of the art research vessels, so new deep sea vessels, new ocean research platform vessels, and new survey vessels. We'll be taking a very close look at our fisheries. Our fisheries are under great pressure. And we are going to look at strategies for recovering fish stocks and making them sustainable into the future.

And then, of course, we have a series of actions on coral reefs for the protection and conservation of what are perhaps some of the most wonderful natural resources that we have on our planet, and that's our coral reef systems.

Finally, we have a strong focus on working these solutions in partnership with the governors. So we will establish our process with our partners, with our governors as co-equal partners side-by-side in developing and implementing these strategies. We're already seeing Governor Bush in Florida taking the lead in the Gulf states; Governor Schwarzenegger in California; the Pacific Northwest governors; and then we just announced and launched two weeks ago a Great Lakes declaration and a Great Lakes process for dealing with these issues for the Great Lakes led by Ohio Governor Taft, Wisconsin Governor Doyle, and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

So with that, I'll conclude, and happy to take questions.

Q What is your response to the commission's recommendation about spending more than $3 billion a year to implement these kinds of measures?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The ocean-related budget began in 1980 somewhere in the neighborhood of, I think it's -- let me get the figure -- $7 billion, and we're now up over $26 billion in terms of ocean-related activities. So we've seen a substantial increase in the budgeting over the last two years which gives you a sense of the importance of the issue and the scope of the issue.

As we look into the '06 process, you'll see in the action plan we have targeted some areas that we could deal with from the commission. We just got the report three months ago, but there were some areas that we can move forward with right away, and there will be additional funds going into this ocean observation effort, to give you one example, so we were able to target that.

The new vessels -- those are resources that we obtain in the '05 budget, and we'll look forward to supporting them in the '06 budget for -- to carry that mission out. So we'll highlight that this time around. The important piece is the action plan. Until we get a sense of the priorities, which has been lacking, it is very difficult internally to work out where the next round of budgeting should go, and equally problematic when you go to the Hill, if you don't have research priorities, what happens is we're back into the old ad hoc budgeting process yet again. So we want to bring some order to this. But the conversation will carry forward, and I think you'll -- substantial resources will continue to flow to oceans issues.

Q I'm afraid you completely lost me on the budget. How much is the budget for FY04 right now? And what do you anticipate?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Just let me get the exact number. Is it in the research -- it's in the research section, let me see. Okay, in 1980, the support for scientific research in the life sciences, sort of the physical sciences, life sciences, environmental sciences related to oceanography was to the tune of about $7.5 billion. And it is now up to $26 billion annually. That's on the science and sort of the technology and all the aspects that go with oceanography.

Q That's by all government agencies?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: All government agencies. Now, the states also have significant resources going to these issues because many of them are managed at the local level. I don't have a figure on that. I would note one of the big issues that the commission highlighted was the issue of run-off -- run-off of pollution from non-point sources -- farms, pavement, ranches -- that find their way through our ecosystems into our coastal areas. The new Farm Bill conservation programs are dedicating several billion dollars each year now to addressing that issue by providing incentives to farmers to essentially halt the run-off. I could go out -- run out a whole list of other sort of initiatives.

One part of this exercise is actually to get to the next generation of a cross-cut budget on oceans. It has been in lots of different places.

Q What about the recommendation, though, about creation of an ocean policy trust fund? How much? Where would the money come from?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The Ocean Commission recommended that a portion of the off-shore oil and gas revenues be exclusively dedicated to ocean's work. There are already a number of competing proposals in Congress laying claim to the same money. That money goes into the general treasury and gets spent on a wide variety of activities, including ocean-related activities. But it also goes to good, old-fashioned research efforts on other matters of human importance like AIDS and what have you. It's part of the general budget.

I think we'll be having a conversation with Congress. We'll be working on our own budgeting. We believe in budgeting as we assign priorities and think that's the better way.

Q Do you have any --

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: No, we've made no decision on that.

Q As far as the 40 recommendations that you said you can move forward right away, that you've got clearance for, what is the cost of that? Is there any cost to that?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: There are a number of items that will have specific budget allocations to them. I'll give you one example. To implement, we've spent the last two years designing local action strategies to protect coral reefs. The plan has identified the cost of an implementation strategy for that, and we are dedicating $2.7 million to the coral reef action plans.

With respect to the vessel -- one of the vessels I described -- we obtained in the '05 budget $18 million to convert one of the Navy's former submarine hunters into what will be a state-of- the-art ocean research platform. So I give you two examples. What we've done in the action plan is where we have a budgeted item, we've specified it and aligned it. But I don't have an overall number for you on that.

Q Was that $2.7 million already in the '05 budget?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The 2.7 million will be in the '06 budget. It was something I'm able to pre-announce on that.

Q I'm sorry what was that description again, $2.7 million?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: -- $2.7 million to implement local action strategies for the protection and conservation of coral reefs. And that's Florida, Hawaii, the U.S. principalities in the Caribbean, and some in the Pacific.

Q That's for '06?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: That's for -- that will be '06 budget. That will be leveraged, by the way -- those strategies have a federal component, and they have a local governmental and private sector component. So that money will be leveraged substantially with funding from additional sources.

Q You talked about the Farm Bill money to address run-off. A lot of states are saying their run-off problem is not agriculture, but it's urban storm water run-off, and acid mine drainage, and construction development. What is the administration going to do to address those things when they didn't put out standards to address run-off for construction and development? And those are really the issues that are really hurting the coastal areas right now.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, actually, you correctly identify that we have a number of sources of what is called non-point source run-off. That's run-off that doesn't come through a pipe. So it comes from farms, it comes from ranches, it comes from highways and roads -- roads and highways. And it comes from the other sources you talked about -- some sewer overflows with systems that are working to come into the current standards. And we have a whole package of programs that will be able to focus in a more integrated way on those issues. We have -- we're filling out the trust fund on the state revolving loan fund for water infrastructure. And that will carry forward, and that's going to help further investment in water systems. The new Transportation bill has provisions associated with the next generation of construction of highways, and there's an environmental chapter to that legislation that is going to be very important in the future design and management of highways to prevent runoff.

These farming incentives are going to be important because if we couple them with standards, and then with the incentive payments, the farmers can actually do the upgrades to their practices and carry that forward in the future. And then, some of it is good old-fashioned enforcement, and EPA has actually brought a number of fairly high-profile actions with respect to some of the sources you described under the Clean Water Act.

Q Jim, there has been a lot of pressure recently from the Hill, Senator Domenici and others, asking MMS to consider leasing in off-shore areas that are currently under congressional or presidential moratoria. What's the administration's view on that?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The administration's view is the President's made clear where he'll sustain the moratoria. And we also have good strategies for further off-shore development in the places that are willing to support it.

MR. DUFFY: Last question.

Q Can you talk a little bit about what the potential impact is for oil and gas drilling long-range under this new creature?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: We will be, in a forward-looking basis, addressing our strategy for managing the further reach of the ocean resource as we get out to the 200-mile zone, and with -- hopefully, with the accession to the Law of the Sea, there's areas we'll be able to lay claim to even further out. We need to actually develop a governing strategy for that for the sake of protecting areas, for the sake of allowing access, but not sort of consumption in areas, and then the areas where we would support commercial development. And part of this process is going to be to begin to get some proposals and framework for how we can effectively do this marine management in the zones that currently are unregulated, and they're unmonitored.

Q Would it be fair to call that kind of a form of ocean zoning?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Different expressions are used. The expression we use is marine management areas.

Q Would you quarrel with ocean zoning?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Others use different expressions, so I'll stick with the one that we prefer because I think it's the one in which we can find some common ground for discussion.

MR. DUFFY: Thanks everybody.


END 1:29 P.M. EST

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