In June, the President created an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to develop a first-ever national ocean policy.If you’ve been paying attention to our coast and oceans for a while, this may sound a bit familiar. Back in 2003 and 2004 two separate commissions made recommendations on actions needed to help protect our coasts and oceans, the independent Pew Oceans Commission, and the Bill Clinton created, George Bush appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. As with many commission reports, these generally weighed down bookshelves and gathered dust.This past October 19th, the Ocean Policy Task Force was in New Orleans for their fifth of six listening sessions across the nation to gather expert opinion and public input. Over 300 people came to voice the issues confronting the Gulf of Mexico. Listen to me talk about what a national ocean policy should address in the Gulf, and see some of the other media that resulted here.The hearing was really an impressive display of support for the Gulf, Louisiana’s wetlands and the need to link the Mississippi River to all coastal coordination. Thoughtful testimony was offered by a number of friends of the GRN, such as Tracy Kuhns, Steven Peyronnin, Maura Wood, and Jordan Macha (representing GRN member groups Bayoukeeper, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, National Wildlife Federation & Sierra Club respectively), former GRN board member Mark Davis of the Tulane Institute on Water Law and Policy, Pam Dashiel from the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainability, and Charlie Smith of the Louisiana Charter Boat Association. Issues such as sustainable fishing (and managing areas such as blue fin tuna spawning spots better), off-shore aquaculture (against), and global warming were all brought up.Colorful testimony was put on the record by Messiah Darryl Paul Ward, (who I’m pretty sure offered the first spoken word performance for the task force so far) and Lucianne Carmichael of A Studio In the Woods who talked about the role of art in connecting people to nature, and extolled the current production of the one-man performance Loup Garou that’s closing this weekend (and which GRN is the community partner for).BUT that wasn’t the beginning of the Obama Administration’s attention on the Gulf. The President himself was in town the week before, bringing with him key cabinet officials such as Janet Napolitano, Arne Duncan, and most importantly for the coast, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley. Ms. Sutley held a listening session in St. Bernard parish with coastal advocates including my boss Cyn Sarthou and others, held a press conference at Bayou Bienvenue to communicate support for coastal restoration, and even took a couple of coastal wetlands tours when she was back the next week to chair the Oceans Policy Task force public hearing.Said Sutley “We’ve heard before and we’ve heard here again today the need for urgency and we certainly understand the need for urgency.” Sutley is co-chairing an inter-agency working group on Gulf coast wetlands restoration efforts that GRN and others feel is a critical opportunity to speed up the Corps and make sure federal agencies are all working together, with the state to make restoration a priority.That working group is a useful sign that the Obama administration is prioritizing the coast in their attention to our region. Of course, he’s got an awful lot of important priorities that we’re competing with, so let’s make sure he continues to hear from us.Another hopeful sign was that the President brought up the coast as he was addressing the town hall last week. Apparently, he even added an additional reference to the issue when he edited the speech himself. Though the President didn’t get any questions on the coast, he weaved it into an answer he gave to a question about recycling and global warming. Oh, and don’t doubt that there were plenty of folks who WANTED to ask him about the coast. My arm was in the air, as was at least 8 folks I KNOW of.Call me crazy, but I’m hopeful.Aaron Viles is GRN’s Campaign Director

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