National Association of Attorneys General

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Attorneys General Meet to Discuss Coastal Environmental Issues

Paula Cotter, Environment Project Director and Chief Counsel

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler and Maine Attorney General Janet Mills hosted an April 19 NAAG Eastern Region conference on coastal environmental issues. The conference covered a mix of legal issues associated with oceans, rivers and lakes—from fisheries management to offshore wind farms. Representatives from 10 statesand the District of Columbia attended the meeting. Attorneys General Gansler, Mills, Michael Delaney of New Hampshire, and William Sorrell of Vermont, and former U.S. Senator Joseph Tydings moderated panel discussions.

Former Maine Governor Angus King kicked off the day’s discussions with a dynamic talk about the potential for offshore wind energy development in the North Atlantic. Governor King emphasized that developing parts of the world are rapidly increasing their energy use, and predicted that competition for power will increase accordingly. Laying out a series of facts about current energy needs and capacity in the United States, he made a case for shifting to a mix of renewable energy sources, and traditional fossil fuels, while pursuing more robust energy conservation measures.

The morning’s first panel featured Lois Schiffer, general counsel for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Captain Vince O’Shea, executive director of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, each of whom discussed different strategies for protecting and preserving aquatic resources along the Atlantic coast. Schiffer outlined NOAA’s multiple aquatic species preservation programs, and highlighted the areas where states and the federal government can play complementary parts in enforcing aquatic preservation regulations. Captain O’Shea provided in-depth examples of aquatic species preservation, such as regulations designed to foster “catch shares” programs, which enable commercial fishermen to fish in ways that preserve the fish population equilibrium and allow for future fishing.

The topic of the next panel discussion was No Discharge Zones (NDZs), areas in water bodies and along coasts where discharge of sewage from boats is prohibited by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ann Rodney, environmental pollution specialist from EPA Region I, explained the federal support for a variety of NDZ efforts, and how varying types of NDZs have been adopted in different New England states. Erin Fitzsimmons, special assistant for the environment in the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, discussed lessons learned in Maryland’s recent attempt to pass legislation aimed at making all Maryland waters a No Discharge Zone. Finally, Pamela Parker, the Boatyard & Marina Compliance contact at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, outlined that state’s experience in implementing No Discharge Zones along its coast, harbor by harbor.

The conference’s keynote speaker was Donald Boesch, PhD, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. In his remarks, he linked scientific knowledge of carbon and nitrogen to the current environmental initiatives going forward in the Eastern states. Dr. Boesch traced the management and effects of those two elements as they relate to the health of the Chesapeake Bay and to global climate change, emphasizing, for example, the environmental impact of human population growth along the Bay, which is correlated with increased use of nitrogen-based fertilizers and increased carbon dioxide in the air.

The first afternoon panel focused on the regulation of – and subsequent litigation over – liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, which have been built or proposed to be built at several locations along the Eastern seaboard. The legal process for approving or denying the construction of LNG terminals is complex, given the safety, energy, and environmental issues involved. Carol Iancu and Adam Snyder, assistant attorneys general from Massachusetts and Maryland respectively, spoke about LNG terminal litigation that illustrates the complex regulatory framework for such installations. They also stressed that, while much of the LNG terminal approval process resides with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), states have an opportunity to make their voices heard at many points during the process, given the need for FERC to coordinate with state agencies and comply with relevant state laws.

The final conference panel focused on offshore wind energy development and the unique political, practical, and legal challenges it poses. Brian Goldman, chief counsel for the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, discussed Rhode Island’s proactive approach to offshore wind energy development, embodied in its creation of the Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP). The Ocean SAMP has been put in place to direct a balanced approach to development, protection, and, where possible, restoration of the state’s coastal resources. Ken Kimmell, general counsel for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, explained his efforts to assist Governor Deval Patrick with the controversial Cape Wind project, a wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod that will be the nation’s first offshore wind farm if approved.

All in all, the attendees came away from the conference better informed about ongoing efforts to regulate and improve the coastal environment in the Eastern states, and better prepared to tackle aquatic issues ranging from preservation to enforcement to energy regulation.

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