The fate of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan, which took years to develop and was starting to be used by government, industry and researchers, is in limbo after actions taken by President Donald Trump this week.
On Tuesday, Trump scrapped a 2010 executive order by President Barack Obama that made environmental protection the focus of the nation’s ocean policy. It also created nine Regional Planning Bodies to write blueprints for protecting the health of the oceans up to the federal limit of 200 miles out, while promoting sustainable uses.
In its place, Trump issued a new executive order to make jobs and economic development the main focus of federal policy, ended the regional groups and established a federal Interagency Ocean Policy Committee.
The administration said the action was to eliminate bureaucracy and streamline federal coordination, in a fact sheet accompanying the order.
But it leaves those starting to implement the Mid-Atlantic plan uncertain about how to proceed.
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body adopted its plan in December 2016 after four years of collaboration among state and federal agencies, fishing interests, tribes, marine industries and recreational and environmental groups.
It made recommendations for coordination of ocean activities from New York to Virginia, including those related to recreation, fishing and aquaculture, the military, shipping and transatlantic cables, wind farms and sand mining.
Alison Chase, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the plan does not address the controversial issue of offshore drilling for gas and oil, which Trump has pushed for and coastal governors and other politicians of both parties oppose.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, is still reviewing Trump’s order and looking for its implications for drilling off the coast of New Jersey. LoBiondo remains adamantly opposed to such drilling, said Jason Galanes, his chief of staff.
But Galanes said the executive order keeps requirements for scientific research and ocean data to be kept up-to-date from multiple agencies, and retains some advisory committees.
Trump’s order still mentions environmental protection, but downplays it, said Tony MacDonald, director of the Monmouth University Urban Coastal Institute.
“The question is, ‘How will we continue to engage with federal agencies moving forward?’” said MacDonald.
Trump’s order says federal agencies can work with regional groups like the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean, or MARCO, which founded the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal at midatlanticocean.org/data-portal.
The portal is being developed by researchers led by Monmouth’s UCI. It displays information on fishing grounds, recreational areas, shipping lanes, habitat areas, energy sites, and other uses.
MARCO was founded in 2009 by the governors of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to work together on climate change adaptation, protecting marine habitats, developing of renewable energy and promoting ocean water quality.
Chase attended a meeting Thursday in Rhode Island on the Northeast Ocean Action Plan. She said Deerin Babb-Brott of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told attendees the plans are no longer controlling documents for federal agencies.
But Babb-Brott said federal agencies will still be able to engage with groups such as MARCO on all aspects of the plans except those that identified areas needing extra protection. In the Mid-Atlantic plan they are called environmentally rich areas, she said.