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July 11, 2011

Activists Help Craft New National Ocean Policy


On the last day of June, the Sierra Club convened 27 coast and ocean activists from around Northern California at Club headquarters in San Francisco to meet and debrief before attending the West Coast listening session and providing testimony on the new National Ocean Policy currently being formulated in Washington, D.C.

The Obama administration's National Ocean Council is attempting to consolidate the 140 separate rules and regulations surrounding the nation's coasts and the Great Lakes into one comprehensive policy. The June 30 listening session gave members of the public and interested stakeholders an opportunity to provide input into that process.


Sierra Club Marine Action Team volunteer Roxy Carter, above, and Resilient Habitats organizer Lesli Daniel, below, recruited activists to the listening session and hosted the gathering at the Sierra Club. Carter reached out to activists through the Marine Action Team and its Blue Vision Summit on the Club's Activist Network, while Daniel sent out an action alert to Sierra Club members within an hour's drive of San Francisco and to coast & ocean activists statewide.


"I work with a coalition of environmental groups who are concerned with marine and coastal issues on the West Coast," says Carter, an attorney and surfer who grew up on the Southern California Coast. "This was the only National Ocean Council listening session in California, and I volunteered to be the coalition's point person to recruit activists to give testimony at the listening session and host a get-together prior to the event."

The participants, whose areas of interest and expertise ranged from sea turtle habitat to agricultural runoff to offshore oil drilling to sea level rise, got to know one another and familiarize themselves with one another's issues over a working lunch. Carter acted as MC and asked everyone in the room to introduce themselves and briefly summarize their area of expertise and the topic they were going to speak about at the listening session.


Daniel then briefed the group on the Sierra Club's California Coast Resilient Habitats Campaign, which rests on three primary credos: 1) Do not place people, businesses, or infrastructure in harm's way; 2) No seawalls; and 3) Use nature to protect the shoreline.

After lunch, the group trooped over to the Hilton Union Square Hotel, where the listening sessions were taking place.


The proceedings opened with a plenary session and remarks from a panel that included, among others, John Laird, Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency; Dr. Larry Robinson, Assistant Secretary for Conservation & Management for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and Jacque Hostler, Chief Executive Officer of the Trinidad Rancheria of the Cher-Ae Heights tribe and a member of the National Ocean Council Governance Committee.

That's Carter with Assistant Secretary Robinson, below.


There followed breakout sessions on the nine priority objectives comprising the new National Ocean Policy that the Obama administration is formulating:

- Ecosystem-Based Management
- Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning
- Inform Decisions and Improve Understanding
- Coordinate and Support
- Resiliency and Adaptation to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification
- Regional Ecosystem Protection and Restoration
- Water Quality and Sustainable Practices on Land
- Changing Conditions in the Arctic
- Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Observations, Mapping, and Infrustructure

Members of the public were limited to three minutes in making their comments.


That's Judith Bernstein of the Sierra Club's Santa Lucia Chapter, above and below at microphone, giving testimony at the Ecosystem Protection and Restoration session. Among the points she touched on were identifying ecologically important areas as part of a regional ecosystem assessment, expanding the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, and looking at areas beyond existing National Marine Sanctuaries.


Former Sierra Club President Larry Fahn, below, attended the same session. Fahn says he wasn't planning to speak until he realized there was almost no reference being made to international stakeholders such as Canada, Mexico, Pacific Rim countries, and international NGOs. So he took a turn at the microphone to say that the Sierra Club, in its Beyond Coal Campaign, has stopped construction of 160 new coal-fired power plants so far and received commitments to retire the last two coal plants in Oregon and Washington State.


"The whole West Coast will be coal-free," Fahn told the panel. "But now the coal companies want to build a new coal shipping terminal in Bellingham, Washington, to ship coal overseas. This will be detrimental to our oceans, and the National Ocean Council should be concerned and engaged."

"Overall, the day went really well," says Roxy Carter. "We had an amazing turnout at the listening sessions, and getting together at the Sierra Club that morning was a great opportunity for a lot of people who hadn't met before to get together and familiarize themselves with what other people are working on."

Join the Marine Action Team and the Ocean Policy Implementation Project on the Activist Network, and learn more about the Sierra Club's Resilient Habitats work on the California Coast and across the country.


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