What does the National Onion Association in Greeley have to do with ocean policy? It’s a good question, and even though I tend to repeat “every state is an ocean state” on every possible occasion, it doesn’t seem to make sense that the lobbying and marketing association for onion growers is concerned about ocean issues.

But they have weighed in.

As members of the so-called National Ocean Policy Coalition—in fact, an organization opposing federal ocean policy—the onion lobby signed onto a letter to Congress this April calling for all appropriations bills specifically to prohibit funding for implementation of the National Ocean Policy.

I have written about the National Ocean Policy before. It’s about to turn two—it went into effect July 19th, 2010, when President Obama signed Executive Order 13547 establishing a National Ocean Policy. Defunding its implementation would make for a sad birthday celebration indeed, and could cause real harm to existing programs and future research, planning, and management for our coasts and oceans.

We have been struggling for many years to come up with a better way to learn about, plan for, and manage our coasts and ocean. In the past, ocean governance was done on a sector-based, largely uncoordinated, and often inefficient manner. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an offshoot of the former Minerals Management Service, deals with oil and gas exploration. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Fisheries Service handles commercial fishing. The Coast Guard deals with shipping corridor safety. The National Parks Service deals with coastal and ocean parks and monuments. And so on. In all, over 20 federal agencies address ocean and coastal issues, which are subject to over 140 federal laws. And that doesn’t even take into account state and local regulations.

The National Ocean Policy provides a way to coordinate these actions more comprehensively and efficiently. It does not create new regulations, but it does provide a framework for agencies to cooperate, share data, coordinate planning, manage, and monitor. It created a National Ocean Council with representatives from the federal agencies involved in ocean issues, along with a Governance Coordinating Committee with state, tribal, and local government representatives, to ensure better coordination and communication. The National Ocean Council is in the process of finalizing an Implementation Plan for the National Ocean Policy with actions that will help meet ocean and coastal management goals. These include things like addressing the problem of marine debris, helping schools engage students in science, improving environmental response management in the Arctic, providing forecasts and vulnerability assessments for coastal communities threatened by sea level rise, and improving water quality.

It’s probably the last item on the list – improving water quality – that has onion growers up in arms.

One of the nine priority areas of the National Ocean Policy is “water quality and sustainable practices on land.” That is an important goal. For example, as I wrote in an earlier article on Telluride Inside… and Out, dead zones, which are affected by water quality and land-based impacts, are a serious concern, both environmental and economic, and have been increasing in size and frequency. The National Ocean Policy recognizes that fact and seeks to address it. It does not take action, as opponents of the policy might lead you to believe, with “job-killing regulations.” Rather, it provides financial assistance to producers who want to make changes to their conservation practices; establishes partnerships with states, regions, and local governments; improves storm-water management; develops a hypoxia (dead zone) data portal for information dissemination and data sharing; creates and uses detection systems for harmful algal blooms (HAB); provides HAB training for local officials… this list could go on (and you can find it yourself in the draft Implementation Plan at, but you get the sense of it.

“Sense” is exactly the right term. The proposed implementation actions for the National Ocean Policy are sensible. They will improve communication and coordination, offer the public and stakeholders a better way to engage in ocean management, and help protect, maintain, and restore the healthy ocean ecosystems that provide us with so many benefits. That’s why, notwithstanding the National Onion Association in Greeley’s position, companies like Phoenix International (they’re helping search for Amelia Earhardt’s plane!), Atlantic Wind Connection (creating the infrastructure to transmit wind power from offshore turbines to onshore users), and Deepwater Wind (an offshore renewable wind energy company), are strong supporters of the National Ocean Policy.

Defunding implementation of the policy could mean not providing funding for ocean research and observation, not improving ocean literacy, failing to provide accurate information on ocean habitat, not helping improve aquaculture, weakening partnerships, not preparing adequately for sea level rise, and not coordinating.

By contrast, supporting the National Ocean Policy will help us address the suite of complex and growing problems facing our coasts and ocean efficiently and effectively.

And maybe even make sure we can have some mussels with our onions.

President Obama signing EO 13547 (White House Council on Environmental Quality)
Mussels with onions (BBC)

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