While changes in political leadership affect U.S. ocean and coastal management strategies, the trajectory of U.S. policy over time has been to advance comprehensive consideration of the interconnected ecological ocean system in international and domestic ocean management. Domestically, regional planning and protective approaches have helped regulators balance multiple, often conflicting uses that can affect ecosystem resilience.
However, U.S. wariness of multi-lateral international agreements challenges environmentally conscious ocean management goals. Recent domestic ocean policies emphasize fossil energy development over conservation and sustainability concerns. Proposals regarding offshore resource development as well as deregulatory efforts could impact ocean resources and have repercussions in international fora.
At the domestic level, limits on the current administration's ability to abruptly finalize major changes to ocean and coastal management exist: jurisdictional authorities are split among federal and state powers and among multiple agencies, and science-based and procedural requirements are built into the ocean and coastal statutes. The current administration has shown a willingness to continue implementation of certain fisheries management reforms initiated in the prior administration, perhaps indicating certain policy areas may not experience extensive priority shifts.
This paper reviews the legal and regulatory framework supporting U.S. coastal and ocean management, and describes changes under the current administration.a Comprehensive reviews of the legal framework and regulations of topics covered in this report already exist, but there is value in considering the overarching legal framework and understanding how these separate technical areas interrelate. This paper focuses on policy topics prioritized under the current and most recent administrations and assesses the state of play of the ongoing deregulation process.
Overall, ocean management has seen less dramatic change than other areas of environmental regulation during this administration, such as air, water, climate, and energy. Most action on ocean issues has, thus far, concentrated on domestic policy. However, the themes exhibited at the domestic level are beginning to reflect on the international stage and to shift the dialogue with the EU and other partners.
The administration's unwillingness to continue previous domestic policies on climate change and opposition to international agreements involving commitments to do so (for example, in announcing the U.S. intends to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement) have a direct impact on Arctic policies and may also impact ocean and coastal issues closely tied to climate, such as acidification, sea level rise, and adaptation. Yet, at the national level, this administration has supported narrow efforts to address marine debris and plastics in the oceans.
Policies and actions in areas crucial to the management of ocean and coastal areas reveal a pattern of prioritizing economic interests and energy development over conservation and protection. On issues not directly tied to climate and not thought to hinder U.S. energy industry development, this administration has exhibited a degree of continuity in position with the prior administration—such as on illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and signing of an agreement preemptively barring fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean. Continued development of offshore wind energy could also be an avenue for increased cooperation with the EU as much of the existing expertise in this area lies with EU-based companies. Recent estimates suggest there are 22,000 MW of offshore wind potential off the east coast of the U.S.—representing a possible $70 billion of economic opportunity.