The Chickahominy Report

News about Earth, Atmosphere, Water, and Life

Mid-Atlantic governors sign pact to protect ocean environment

Virginia Beach Crowd

Tourists enjoy Vir­ginia Beach. (Copy­right © 2005 David M. Lawrence)

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. — Last Thurs­day, just a week­end before the first offi­cial obser­vance of World Oceans Day, the gov­er­nors of Delaware, Mary­land, New Jer­sey, New York, and Vir­ginia signed an agree­ment com­mit­ting the states to a coop­er­a­tive effort to pro­tect the ocean waters of the Mid-Atlantic.

The “Mid-Atlantic Gov­er­nors’ Agree­ment on Ocean Con­ser­va­tion” estab­lish­es the Mid-Atlantic Region­al Coun­cil of the Ocean — con­sist­ing of the five gov­er­nors — which should improve coor­di­na­tion among the states and min­i­mize state-line obsta­cles to effec­tive action.

“Our coastal waters are a vital part of our his­to­ry and econ­o­my,” Vir­ginia Gov­er­nor Tim Kaine said in a state­ment. “I am very pleased to be coor­di­nat­ing efforts and resources with our region­al neigh­bors to increase the effec­tive­ness and effi­cien­cy of our con­ser­va­tion efforts.”

The gov­er­nors agreed that the coun­cil should — at least ini­tial­ly — con­cen­trate on the fol­low­ing pri­or­i­ties: 1) region­al coor­di­na­tion of the  pro­tec­tion of impor­tant habi­tats and sen­si­tive and unique off­shore areas; 2) pro­mo­tion of improve­ment in region­al water qual­i­ty as a focal point for action; 3) region­al col­lab­o­ra­tion on sus­tain­able devel­op­ment of off­shore renew­able ener­gy sources; and 4) prepa­ra­tion of the region’s coastal com­mu­ni­ties for the effects of cli­mate change.

“I think there’s a lot of poten­tial for it to make a big dif­fer­ence,” said Jack­ie Savitz. “I say that because there’s so many things that need to hap­pen with regard to the oceans. Since the oceans don’t have state bound­aries, these are issues that the gov­er­nors are all going to be hav­ing to work on togeth­er in some ways.”

Among the issues Savitz says the gov­er­nors will have to coop­er­ate on is that of cli­mate change and the devel­op­ment of off­shore ener­gy resources.

“The ques­tion of whether we need to be drilling for addi­tion­al oil and gas off the coast is one that all these gov­er­nors will be grap­pling with,” Savitz said. “Whether we can gen­er­ate ener­gy with off­shore wind is anoth­er one that all these gov­er­nors are going to be grap­pling with. When you look at off­shore wind, one of the best places to get in in the U.S. is off the Mid-Atlantic coast — near­ly any­where off the Atlantic Coast as opposed to the West coast or the Gulf.”

Aside from off­shore ener­gy devel­op­ment, Savitz said anoth­er key issue will be water quality.

“These are all states that that have a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties in terms of beach­es,” said Savitz. “New York and New Jer­sey, espe­cial­ly, but Delaware, Mary­land, and Vir­ginia all have a big com­po­nent of their econ­o­my depen­dent on tourism and beach­es, so I can see them work­ing on water qual­i­ty-type issues.”

With­in the next six months, the gov­er­nors plan a sum­mit — involv­ing mem­bers of the aca­d­e­m­ic, advo­ca­cy, and busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties — to plan and imple­ment shared actions to be under­tak­en as part of the agree­ment. Begin­ning in the spring, the coun­cil will begin peri­od­ic reviews of its progress and make revi­sions to its plans as it deems necessary.

It is not yet known how this part­ner­ship will affect coop­er­a­tive efforts on anoth­er com­mon resource — the Chesa­peake Bay — but Kaine, in his state­ment, linked the Bay’s health to that of oth­er coastal ecosys­tems. Some of the coun­cil’s stat­ed goals, such as reduc­ing runoff pol­lu­tion into the region’s water­ways, will ben­e­fit the Chesa­peake, Delaware Bay, and coastal Atlantic waters collectively.

Despite the threats fac­ing the region’s marine envi­ron­ment, Savitz said that enthu­si­asm for the effort was high among the troops.

“I was at the con­fer­ence … and they had a series of work­ing ses­sions in addi­tion to the press con­fer­ence that they held. There were about 200 state resource agency staff there. In their work­ing ses­sions, they were talk­ing about what the issues would be, what kind of mech­a­nisms they could use to work togeth­er and things like that,” Savitz said. “From what I heard from some of the staff, they were the kind of work­ing ses­sions where every­body was real­ly enthu­si­as­tic and they were going over time, run­ning out of time. I think it is a pos­i­tive step.”

— David M. Lawrence

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