- The Washington Times - Friday, December 17, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush is creating a White House committee to oversee the nation’s ocean policies, with plans to improve research, better manage fisheries and regulate pollution caused by boats.

Responding to a presidential commission, Mr. Bush signed an executive order yesterday to create the Committee on Ocean Policy.

“We also are moving forward with dozens of actions on a near-term time basis,” said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The increased focus on the problems of the world’s oceans comes in response to more than 200 recommendations from a presidential commission that reported in September on 21/2 years of study.

Those recommendations included better coordination of national ocean policy through new councils and advisers within the White House and creation of a $4 billion government trust fund to pay for new ocean initiatives. The president has not agreed to the trust fund.

Mr. Bush is going beyond the commission’s work with some of his own recommendations, however, such as reducing air pollution from marine vessels, both nationally and internationally.

A market system for managing fisheries would use tools such as individual fishing quotas to cut down on regulation and improve safety at sea, officials said. Mr. Bush also has ordered Cabinet agencies to pay more heed to what private landowners, states and local governments say about managing the environment, the subject of an executive order in August.

James Watkins, a retired admiral and former chief of naval operations who chaired the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, had predicted the trust fund would be a tough sell politically.

At a time when Mr. Bush is trying to rein in spending, it would mean annual diversion of about four-fifths of the $5 billion in royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling and other payments that now go to the Treasury. Congress would have to approve it.

After meeting yesterday with Mr. Bush in the Oval Office for his signing of the executive order, Mr. Watkins described the president’s response to the recommendations as a promising first step that will set in motion the important process of developing an ocean policy.

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