President Obama is expected to issue an executive order on Monday to create a national policy for managing the country's oceans, coasts and Great Lakes. The policy does not change any existing laws or regulations, but it could have helped the federal government better coordinate its response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
The oil spill has shown "we need to better coordinate the federal government toward a set of stewardship principles to make sure we are continuing to preserve and in some cases restore the ecological functions of the oceans and coasts," Sutley said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.
John Holdren, Obama's top aide for science and technology, said on the call that until Obama's commission completes its investigation into what caused the oil spill, it would be hard to predict how the policy could have prevented lapses that led up to the disaster.
The policy embraces a controversial concept of zoning the nation's waters, which would essentially allow the federal government and local agencies to deem which parts of the ocean or Great Lakes are suitable for different types of activities, ranging from oil and natural gas drilling to recreational fishing.
"The new policy does not restrict any ocean uses," Holdren stressed. "The idea is to impose some coordination and coherence to this welter of array of activities."
While the policy will not carry with it any legal or regulatory power, its recommendations will likely have clout within the administration. "It will highlight areas that are suitable for certain kinds of uses," Sutley said.
The executive order also will create a National Ocean Council comprising several government departments and agencies. The council is expected to hold its first meeting this summer to begin work implementing the policy.