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Massachusetts ocean planning turns political

WASHINGTON โ€“ The president of the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole brought his expertise on the seas to Capitol Hill Tuesday to support the National Ocean Policy.

John Bullard spoke before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources Tuesday, basing his testimony on his experience in assisting the state draft the Massachusetts Ocean Plan in 2010.

He said the ocean will be looked at in the future for critical new services โ€“ such as wind energy โ€“ while traditional uses such as commercial fishing continue.

“We in New England, like other parts of the country, are reliant on our coasts and oceans for jobs, recreation and the very fabric of our coastal communities,” Bullard said.

“Ocean planning “ยป is a sensible approach that will enable new and existing uses to thrive together,” he said.

The National Ocean Policy, created by an executive order by President Barack Obama in 2010, calls for coastal and management special planning, which would bring together different groups who use the ocean in an attempt to help them better co-exist, according to the Environmental Law Institute.

Those uses include recreational and commercial fishing, transportation and shipping, renewable energy generation, aquaculture and conservation.

The goal is to balance human use of the oceans with ecosystem needs.

The National Ocean Policy, which is not yet being enforced, would work in conjunction with the Massachusetts Ocean Plan. The state plan covers the ocean up to three miles from the coast and the national plan would extend out to 200 miles, Bullard said.

“Almost nothing stops at three miles,” Bullard told the Times after the hearing.

Others who testified before the committee said they feared its reach could extend into land-use policies and hurt commerce and housing markets in the process. Bullard, who is the former mayor of New Bedford, said he wouldn’t be worried about the effects of the policy on land use.

Jim Lanard, president of Offshore Wind Development Coalition, testified on the need for a road map for offshore wind developments. He said the United States is behind China and Europe on wind farm developments.

“Cape Wind started 10 years ago,” he said, referring to the beginning of the process to build a Nantucket Sound wind farm. “There’s no steel in the water, though.”

U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., expressed his support for the National Ocean Policy during the hearing, using a local example to illustrate the benefits.

“An ocean plan means we can lay down fiber-optic cable from Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard without affecting fish habitat, so customers can surf the worldwide web without affecting the web of life below the surface,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., questioned Bullard on the Massachusetts plan’s effect on the fishing industry. Bullard said the state’s plan hasn’t interfered with the management of the fisheries. He said earlier in the meeting that an ocean plan in Massachusetts benefitted industries because it created an abundance of data related to, for example, where to site a wind farm and commercial fishing.

The hearing became contentious at times over the issue of Obama signing an executive order to implement the policy rather moving it through Congress.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said the left wing of environmentalists were attempting a “radical agenda of urban centralization” to push everyone to urban areas and restore nature to its natural state.

Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., said to the panel of witnesses who testified, “Thank you for having a say in the dismantling of my freedoms.”

In response, Markey said to the committee, “Instead of supporting a plan for our oceans, the Republican majority continues to pursue scare tactics, claiming that the policy creates additional regulations and kills American jobs.”