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Bush couldsave the oceans

Oregon Editors Say

His commission's report calls for bold action; he should take it

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

President Bush has a rare opportunity to shore up his severely eroded environmental credentials later this month when he receives the report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, the task force he appointed to study the state of the seas.

The report is strikingly similar to that issued last year by the independent Pew Oceans Commission. Both reports chart a bold course for recovery of our ailing oceans ' a course that Bush should embrace and champion in Congress.

Bush's commission delivers a clarion warning: America's oceans and shores are in a state of crisis. Fish populations and large swaths of coastal waters have been devastated by overfishing, pollution, human encroachment, environmental mismanagement and haphazard regulation.

The damage is not yet irreparable, but restoration will require tens of billions of dollars and decades of work. The Bush and Pew commissions agree that federal ocean management policies must be completely reorganized and science made the basis for future management of the 4.4 million-square-mile area off the nation's coasts.

The Bush panel recommends replacing the current patchwork of 20 regulatory agencies with a new National Ocean Council, which would coordinate a network of regional ocean councils. The panel also says coastal development must be more closely regulated to avoid runoff of pollutants, including oil, and human and farm waste.

— Scientists ' not industry officials ' should establish commercial fishing quotas and limits. Other recommendations include doubling the federal government's annual investment in ocean research over the next five years, restructuring and strengthening the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and creating a new &

36;1.7 billion ocean monitoring system.

While the commission's report provides a strong framework, several of its findings should be revised. Foremost among them is a recommendation that the &

36;3 billion annual cost of the proposals be funded by royalties from offshore oil and gas exploration.

Such an arrangement could encourage states to expand drilling to bolster offshore revenues from drilling and indirectly undermine support for progressive energy policies such as developing renewable energy sources.

Our oceans and shores are deteriorating at a breathtaking rate. Tens of thousands of acres of coastal wetlands disappear each year, and an already-depleted inventory of coral reefs could be cut in half within the next three decades. Pollution and habitat loss are threatening coastal areas, creating economic crises for communities that rely on fishing, recreation and tourism.

Lawmakers are already preparing legislation based on the commission's report, but strong White House support will be needed for them to become law.

For nearly four years, the Bush administration has dedicated itself to rolling back and eliminating environmental protections and regulations. Now it has an opportunity to create a positive environmental legacy by helping to save our oceans.