Testimony – Final Report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy

Chairman McCain and Senator Hollings, on behalf of the states, thank you for this opportunity to testify on the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy’s final report supporting development of a national ocean policy. My name is Frank Murkowski, and I am the Governor of Alaska. This year, I also serve as Chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources of the National Governors Association, where I have made ocean policy and responding to the Commission’s report a priority for my tenure. I will be presenting my testimony today in these two capacities.

With more than half of the nation’s offshore waters and two-thirds of its coastline, Alaska is keenly interested in national ocean policy. Alaska’s oceans are virtually pollution free, productive and sustainably managed. We share the vision of the Commission for a nationwide ocean policy framework that will produce the environmental results that Alaska already enjoys and strives to maintain. I commend the commission for its hard-work over the past few years in developing this comprehensive report. The members were faced with a daunting task and the final product is impressive.

The central theme that you will hear throughout my testimony is the need for a strong state role and participation in all aspects of a national ocean policy. A strong partnership between federal, state and local governments is absolutely essential in managing and protecting our ocean and coastal resources.

I would like to begin my testimony by addressing you in my capacity as Chair of NGA’s Natural Resources Committee. The nation’s Governors feel that there are a few key principles that should be integrated into any future national ocean policy crafted in response to the report. These are: no federal preemption of state laws, recognition of state primacy, and better coordination of existing laws and government programs with no new unfunded mandates.

The Commission Report provides strong recommendations for national structures to advance ocean policy, while indicating the important role states play in ocean and coastal management. While we understand the need for national coordination, state sovereignty over coastal waters and uplands must be maintained to implement strategies that achieve national standards but are tailored to unique regional and state conditions. It would be unacceptable for any council or board to reduce states’ authority for management of our jurisdictional waters or lands.

For example, in Alaska, we employ the principles of ecosystem-based management, as recommended in the report, in managing our world-class ocean resources and we support further progress as long as such measures can be implemented in ways that do not erode local and state authorities, are flexible to address local conditions, and are adequately funded.

As the President and Congress move forward in crafting and implementing a national ocean policy we feel that the states’ jurisdictional authorities and roles must be at the fore. The states and territories have been managing their ocean and coastal resources for decades. As laws are enacted and priorities and standards are set, states must be able to enforce their respective statutes and have the ability to set higher priorities and stricter standards than federal standards should they deem that appropriate.


In addition to not preempting state laws and regulations, the President and Congress must also refrain from creating any unfunded mandates. Many of the recommendations in the report call for the creation of new programs or call on the states to take on additional responsibilities. While the Governors strongly feel that the management and protection of our ocean and coastal resources must be undertaken through a strong partnership with the federal government, states and communities should not be forced to shoulder the costs of federal requirements without corresponding federal funding. Adequate new funding for implementation of any new programs is requisite, as is funding for existing programs. This position is supported by the Commission’s statement that the partnership needed to adequately manage our ocean and coastal resources “should include a recognition that much of the responsibility for the management of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources rests with coastal and local governments.”

Our resource management success in Alaska has been largely achieved through the use of traditional state and federal regulatory programs. We are often disappointed that federal funding for these programs is reduced in favor of new initiatives, which are not coordinated with existing programs.

I would now like to take the time to address some more specific management issues raised in the report: the need for strong, sound science, successful implementation of the Clean Water Act, reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Act, and the need to prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species. While my testimony only touches upon a limited number of the Commission’s recommendations, it must be noted that a strong state role and state flexibility should be inherent in any and all aspects of a national oceans and coastal policy.

Ocean Science

The Commission report places a lot of emphasis on the need for strong and sound science and research in a national ocean policy. We agree with the Commission that ocean managers and policy makers, on all levels, need comprehensive scientific information about the ocean and its environments to make informed decisions. This science-based effort can be achieved through strong support for various federal programs, like the National Estuarine Research Reserves and the National Sea Grant Program, that help support state and local efforts to understand and manage coastal resources.

Strong, sound science is also a critical factor in fisheries management, where special attention needs to be paid to the fact that new fishing regulations can have severe repercussions for fishing communities. States, the federal government, and academia should coordinate and form partnerships to further research efforts that create synergies amongst projects and ensure that the results are applicable to resource management needs. Data collection, management, and analysis, as well as additional research, are needed to complete stock assessments, define life cycles of species, and establish the extent and function of essential fish habitat, much of which exists within states’ jurisdictions. Comprehensive cooperative data collection programs should be developed to fill information gaps that currently exist in fisheries management.

Clean Water

Water resources are central to the health of the citizens of our nation and are essential to our economic and environmental well-being. Under the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and other statutes, the primary responsibility for managing the nation’s vital water resources is properly vested with the states. Governors believe that states must be afforded significant flexibility in the management of our water resources.

We subscribe to the Commission’s goal of significantly reduced nonpoint source pollution, not only in impaired coastal watersheds, but in all watersheds. To that end, states are developing programs to bring impaired waters into compliance with water quality standards. Our partners in this effort are the federal government, local municipalities and public and private stakeholders. The role of the federal government should be to support states’ efforts. With your support we can achieve our water quality goals through coordinated federal programs, providing technical and financial assistance, supporting research and development, and through appropriate oversight of state programs.

We believe in positive reinforcement and economic incentives to encourage meaningful progress in meeting water quality standards. In the words of our Enlibra policy, a concept promoted nationally by EPA Administrator, Mike Leavitt, reliance on the threat of enforcement action to force compliance is often not nearly as efficient and cost-effective as market-based approaches and economic incentives. Such approaches reward environmental performance, promote economic health, encourage innovation, and increase trust. We hope that any legislation to implement the recommendations of the Oceans Commission will not replicate the mistakes of the past and will seek a new approach to the environmental challenges of ocean and coastal pollution, preferably by incorporating the principles of Enlibra.

Lastly, we urge Congress to provide adequate funding to carry out the provisions in the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). In the long run, full implementation of these laws will protect our coastal areas as well as state waters that ultimately flow into the oceans. Specifically, the Governors agree with Commission’s recommendation that Congress should authorize and appropriate funds at the level necessary for states to accomplish the tasks associated with watershed management and water program financing, while allowing them increased flexibility in the use of water program money. Congress should also appropriate funds, as well as provide sufficient capitalization grants and resources for the administration of the State Revolving Loan Funds.

Reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act

The reauthorization and strengthening of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972 is addressed in numerous recommendations made by the Commission. The CZMA established a unique partnership among federal, state and local governments to ensure balanced consideration amongst competing coastal resources. The Governors agree with the Commission that Congress should reauthorize the CZMA, and we believe it should continue to provide support to states. Support includes increased financial and technical assistance to states to work with coastal communities to manage growth and conserve resources while improving management of regional and ocean resources.

While the Commission did not recommend changes to the federal consistency provisions of CZMA, I would like to affirm the Governors opposition to any changes in these provisions. The federal consistency provisions are central to the federal-state partnership created under the CZMA. We urge Congress and the Administration to retain all provisions of the act that ensure that all federal activities affecting the coastal zone are subject to the consistency review process.

The Commission also focuses on the coastal nonpoint pollution control programs under Section 6217 of CZMA and Section 319 of the Clean Water Act. In its final report, the Commission recommends that the National Ocean Council review the programs and make recommendations to Congress on enhancing nonpoint source pollution control efforts. The Governors look forward to taking part in these efforts to improve the operation and effectiveness of these programs, and would support changes that would provide state more flexibility in implementing and meeting the requirements of Section 6217.

Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Management Act

The Commission offers a variety of recommendations to ensure the long-term sustainability of our fisheries, while maximizing social and economic benefits. The states have great interest in how the federal government carries out its fisheries conservation and management responsibilities. Ultimately federal regulations affect the economies, communities, and citizens of the states. With that in mind, the Governors believe that achieving sustainable fisheries and the protection of fish habitat can best be accomplished through a strong state-federal partnership that provides additional opportunities for states to lead in the development and execution of marine policies and programs.

In regards to specific fishery management recommendations, the Governors also believe that fishery managers should be afforded a variety of management tools when regulating fisheries, including Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs) (The Commission on Ocean Policy refers to programs like ITQs as “Dedicated Access Privileges”). Regional councils should be able to use ITQs where appropriate, and any decision to use ITQs must come from within the affected region. If Congress or the federal government seeks to establish national guidelines for ITQs, a “one-size-fits-all” approach should be avoided, and any ITQ program must respect the unique local biological and social conditions.

Aquatic Invasive Species

The Commission devotes a chapter of its report to the prevention of the spread of invasive species. The adverse impacts of invasive species is a national and international problem, and government at all levels need to work together to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species. Since the problems associated with aquatic invasive species can be felt nationwide, the Governors believe that a consistent nationwide prevention strategy is more effective than individual state-by-state strategies. However, in developing legislation and regulations to achieve a nationwide strategy, Congress and the Administration should work with states to ensure that strategies are collaborative and do not impose unfunded mandates or detract from the abilities of states to manage species within its borders.

Alaska and Oceans Management

Having talked as Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee of NGA, I would like to spend a few moments conveying my views as the Governor of Alaska. For the convenience of the Committee, I have attached to this testimony my previous letter to the Ocean Commission, along with an executive summary of Alaska’s recommendations. Accordingly, I will mention only a few salient points in my testimony today.

The State of Alaska has a long history of working successfully in collaboration with federal and local jurisdictions on ocean issues. From joint state and federal oil and gas lease sales in the Beaufort Sea, to the continuing work of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, Alaska has experienced significant benefits from intergovernmental coordination for managing ocean and watershed resources. Alaska is indeed unique amongst the 50 states in that our constitution mandates sustainable management and use of our renewable natural resources.

One notable example of a mutually beneficial state and federal partnership is the successful record of fisheries management by the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which has been widely noted. This formula for collaborative sustainable fisheries management has produced sound science and research programs, effective reporting and inseason management programs, limitations on fishing capacity, precautionary and conservative catch limits, habitat protection measures, incorporation of ecosystem considerations, comprehensive observer coverage, strict limits on bycatch and discards, and open public processes that involve stakeholders at all levels. The current system for managing our nation’s fisheries, as envisioned by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, can and is working effectively. As demonstrated by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, the Council process can provide for responsible stewardship and management of our nation’s marine resources.

Alaska’s experience with the use of risk-based management leads me to recommend its application in national ocean policy. Risk-based management provides the flexibility to achieve national standards with state implementation strategies built upon site-specific data and information. The State of Alaska’s environmental quality standards, environmental monitoring and research priorities, compliance inspection and enforcement priorities, and resource allocation policies are all driven by very conservative environmental protection and sustained yield assumptions that can be adjusted with relevant site-specific data and monitoring information.

Site-specific data collection and monitoring are essential components of risk-based management. Absent site-specific information a “one-size-fits-all” management approach is used to achieve national standards. State implementation strategies that apply the best available site-specific information with on-going monitoring are a preferred alternative to a national one-size-fits-all management approach.

The organizational proposals in the Report are complex and contemplate new offices, new staff, and new reporting relationships. As Governor of Alaska, it is my belief that existing state programs can implement strategies to achieve national standards, and consequently a new federal implementation bureaucracy is not needed. Alaska’s experience does not convince us that new government structures for centralized federal management produce better environmental or management results than proper utilization and funding of existing programs and agencies. Instead, I ask that efforts to create a new federal governance structure be focused on streamlining and coordinating existing programs.

Thus, new ocean planning and coordination must not occur at the expense of the workhorse regulatory programs required by the Clean Water Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Oil Pollution Act, and other federal legislation. A renewed federal commitment is needed to fund, strengthen, and improve the coordination of the country’s existing pollution control programs that relate to ocean management.

In conclusion, the governors look forward to playing a lead role in developing and implementing programs that will carry out the improvements for ocean management outlined in the report. I thank you again for the opportunity to testify before the Committee and would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.