EPA proposes special ocean sites

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today proposed new protections for 'Special Ocean Sites' that have outstanding environmental value, including prohibitions for new and expanded ocean development.

Jan. 19, 2001—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today proposed new protections for "Special Ocean Sites" that have outstanding environmental value, including prohibitions for new and expanded ocean development.

Also, for the first time, development activities such as mining, oil and gas exploration, and fish farming in federal ocean waters beyond three miles offshore would have to meet protective new standards under the Clean Water Act. EPA today released a draft report that found the overall condition of the nation's coastal waters to be fair to poor.

EPA today is proposing to establish four Special Ocean Sites: 1) Flower Garden Banks, located off Texas; 2) Gorda Ridge-Blanco Fracture zone, located off Oregon; 3) Escanaba Trough of the Gorda Ridge, located off California; and, 4) Northern Right Whale Critical Habitat Areas, located off Massachusetts and the Florida/Georgia border. Permits for new discharges and significantly expanded existing discharges would be prohibited in these areas.

"Today's proposal will define special places in the ocean that deserve extra protection," said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, J. Charles Fox. "Half of all U.S. citizens live near our coasts and 180 million people visit the coasts annually. Each year, the oceans generate billions of dollars for our economy."

At the direction of President Clinton in an Executive Order issued on May 26, 2000, EPA is taking a number of steps to strengthen protection of coastal and ocean waters. Today's proposal responds to increasing threats to oceans, marine environments and coastal areas by a rapid increase in coastal population and other pressures.

Under this proposal, ocean sites within U.S. jurisdiction that have outstanding value, such as critical habitat established under the Endangered Species Act, high value coral reefs, hydrothermal vents and others, could be designated as "Special Ocean Sites." In addition, EPA is proposing a petition process to allow citizens and states to request additional Special Ocean Sites.

In addition, all ocean areas outside state jurisdiction, beyond three miles off shore, would be designated as "Healthy Ocean Waters." For the first time, these areas would have to meet 16 specific water quality criteria, in addition to other conditions necessary to support aquatic life and wildlife, recreational, and aesthetic values.

Today's proposal would strengthen the requirements for permits to discharge into ocean waters.

Additional information on today's proposed ocean sites, revisions to the Clean Water Act ocean discharge criteria, and the draft coastal condition report is available on EPA's Office of Water Web site at: http://www.epa.gov/ow , under "What's New."

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