2018 Progress Report

2018 has been really challenging for those of us in the conservation business. The objective remains the same – working toward the most beneficial outcomes for the most living beings. But the growing distractions continue to shift, phase, and transform, driving the public-at-large off the rails of our collective focus.

While we continue to keep up on the ongoing proposed actions and modifications to our Federal regulations, the current administration is not particularly interested in due process, protocol, or even basic decorum. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to elaborate; suffice it to say that unlike previous years when an Environmental Impact Statement would be released for public review, our comments would be digested by the regulating agency, and their “preferred action plan” was released with a synthesis of our concerns – along with an explanation as to why their decision best served the greater public good.

That was then. But in these past two years our work could more accurately be characterized as ‘tap-dancing bats on a red-hot skillet’ – all the while doing our regular conferences, outreach, and presentations.

Useful noise exposure regulations are supposed to be informed by the “best available science,” but increasingly we are finding that the regulations are built on outdated and superseded research.  Hoping to address this issue; last year in early December I was at an Acoustical Society meeting giving a presentation on high frequency propagation of digital communication signals – alerting colleagues about a rapidly advancing ocean noise source that the Regulatory Agencies are ignoring.

Then in January all hell broke loose with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) releasing their Five-Year Offshore Oil Leasing proposal, proposing that 90% of the Outer Continental Shelf be handed over to the Oilmen. We submitted our technical comments, along with the ~3 million other public comments (98% of which were simple expressions of “Hell No!”).

Also as part of our public engagement on this issue we rented a big van and filled it up with a pile of kids from the stellar ocean advocacy group Heirs to our Oceans, and headed up to Sacramento, where BOEM was staging a “public listening session” on their Five Year plan.

We anticipate the release of BOEMs decision in mid-January, and expect that they will not be heeding the public sentiments – or the technical warnings.

Most folk’s concerns about offshore oil have to do with the highly disruptive seismic surveys required to find hydrocarbon deposits – and the likelihood of oil spills happening somewhere along the extraction process. But there are many more disruptions between these two activities which will completely transform the regional habitat. These are detailed in a video produced by OCR Communications Director Daniela Huson.

 

Policy efforts:

In June we went to Washington DC for “Capitol Hill Ocean Week” to “polish the marble” -walking the halls of Congress to meet with staff members of Senate and House leaders, informing them about marine conservation issues. While the ocean conservation heroes were in the minority party at the time, we were pleased to find that they were definitely not just wringing their hands and waiting for the gavel to pass back across the aisle. This is a good thing, because the industry representatives in our government were thrashing away at “burdensome” regulations – such as the National Ocean Policy Act (NOPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – the foundations of pretty much all our marine conservation efforts.

Assassinated by Executive Order, there was not much OCR could do about NOPA. The other two acts were released for public comments (as requirement under NEPA) – and again predictably, the preponderance of the public was not enthusiastic. Our comments on ESA and NEPA were a bit different for me. Unlike the Environmental Impact Statements that require mathematical modeling and biological opinions substantiated by science, NEPA and ESA are policy guidelines written in a legal parlance that can be completely transformed with the addition of omission of a single word.

The public comment periods for these acts have come and gone, and the administration has yet to release their synthesis of these efforts. They could happen any moment in the chaos of the other administrative distractions, and of-course, the holidays. My prediction about the release of the Mid and South-Atlantic seismic surveys was on point, so it may be only a matter of days when their NEPA and ESA revisions are foisted upon us.

Back in November of 2016 I asked pal and environmental hero Randy Hayes how to be effective with an administration that promised to destroy environmental regulations. He suggested we focus on international issues. It was under this rubric that I was honored to be asked to give an environmental keynote presentation at an International Maritime Organization (IMO) conference in Batumi Georgia.

This journey half-way around the world also afforded me a glimpse of a western nation less developed than Mexico, and dangling under the shadow of Russia. But even in their difficult economic circumstances they were still concerned about international conservation agreements. Hopefully we will soon return our nation’s progress to these values, with our sights on clear, unpolluted horizons.

None of our work would be possible without your support and encouragement. For this we are deeply grateful.

Please join us again as our planet heads back into the seasons of light – and the opportunities we take – working toward the most beneficial outcomes for the most living beings.

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