Academic journal article Washington Law Review

From Stratton to Uscop: Environmental Law Floundering at Sea

Academic journal article Washington Law Review

From Stratton to Uscop: Environmental Law Floundering at Sea

Article excerpt


Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean-roll!

Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;

Man marks the earth with ruin-his control

Stops with the shore;

-George Gordon, Lord Byron

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Canto the Fourth, CLXXIX

In the late 1960s, the environmental movement was budding in the United States, and a land ethic was quickly emerging. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969(1) ushered in a decade of environmental legislation addressing numerous areas of the human environment. In the midst of this environmental awakening, a report entitled Our Nation and the Sea2 was issued in January 1969 by a presidentially-appointed commission. This report of the Commission on Marine Sciences, Engineering, and Resources, commonly known as the Stratton Commission Report, provided the first comprehensive review and assessment of U.S. ocean policy. Because of its timing, people looking back often presume that the health of the nation's seas was the primary focus of the Stratton Commission Report. This was not the case.

Environmental concerns, particularly pollution issues, were a recurring underlying theme in the Stratton Report, and threats to the ocean environment were certainly recognized. But like Lord Byron, Americans of the 1960s largely perceived the resources of the oceans as virtually infinite and did not seriously believe that man could cause long-term damage to the vast oceans. Rather, the Stratton Commission's work was influenced by a 1966 report of the President's Science Advisory Committee entitled Effective Use of the Sea,3 and the concept of effective use of oceans for exploitation of resources and expansion of economic activities permeates the report. The report was not so much the product of the environmental movement as it was of other developments of the previous decade.

The first development was the United States' new emphasis on science after the Russian launching of Sputnik in 1958. Following a decade dedicated to winning the space race, Congress was ready to initiate a scientific program to address the exploration of the earth's "last frontier"-the oceans. The Marine Resources and Engineering Development Act of 19664 mandated the development of a comprehensive program of marine activities and created the Stratton Commission to "make a comprehensive investigation and study of all aspects of marine science . . . ."5 The Commission was directed to "[r]eview the known and contemplated needs for natural resources from the marine environment to maintain our expanding national economy,"6 and recommend a "[g]overnmental organizational plan"7 and an "adequate national marine science program that will meet the present and future national needs . . . ."8

The second development leading to the nation's need to consider a comprehensive national ocean policy was the quickly developing international law of the sea and ocean enclosure movement.9 At the commissioning of an oceanic research vessel in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson expressed concern about the competition for ocean resources, declaring that:

[u]nder no circumstances, we believe, must we ever allow the prospects of rich harvests and mineral wealth to create a new form of colonial competition among the maritime nations. We must be careful to avoid a race to grab and to hold the lands under the high seas. We must ensure that the deep seas and the ocean bottoms are, and remain, the legacy of all human beings.10

The Stratton Commission Report reflected a more parochial concern, stating: "[t]here is the threat inherent in any failure by the Nation to utilize successfully its fair share of a major planetary resource; the United States simply cannot afford less than its best effort to utilize the global sea."11 National ocean policy was not just a question of use of coastal seas, but a question of assuring that the United States be able to exploit its fair share of global high seas resources. …

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