Photo courtesy of Don Whelpley, NOAA

Years of work and collaboration by state and federal agencies, fishermen and crabbers, local coastal governments, conservation groups, and statewide interests came together this week as Oregon approved a Territorial Sea Plan that designates and maps important ecological resources along our coastline and identifies areas appropriate for marine renewable energy research and development.

Oregon has set goals for reducing carbon emissions and is exploring alternative and renewable energy forms.  Wave energy is one such possibility.  With Oregon’s sea producing some of the most powerful and promising wave energy conditions in the world, we face an important question:  Can we find a place for a renewable coastal energy source in our already bustling seas?

Oregon’s coastal communities have a tradition and economy built on the ocean: commercial fishing and crabbing, sport fishing, whale watching, and many other endeavors rely on the ocean to succeed.  Our coastal waters are home to special and important ecological resources that form the base of these coastal economies and traditions, and which the State of Oregon has pledged to protect.  In addition, navigation lanes and markers, underwater cable lines, ocean shipping, research, and safety vessels, and many other users already lay claim to areas of the ocean.  On the beach, millions of visitors come to surf, play, and take in the spectacular scenery along our coast.  Now, wave energy development is joining this list of ocean uses.

On Thursday, the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission approved amendments to the Territorial Sea Plan, which specifically protects identified ecologically important areas and sets standards and criteria for wave energy testing and development.  In addition to general requirements for information monitoring and reporting, cumulative impacts analysis, and a phased development approach that incorporates new information as it is gained, the Plan also sets forth specific standards for protecting ecological and fisheries resources, and reducing visual impacts.

Crag has provided legal support to conservation groups throughout this process, beginning with Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, whose Ocean Program Director Robin Hartmann sits on the state’s Ocean Policy Advisory Council, and continuing with Our Ocean, a coalition of conservation groups including Oceana, Surfrider, and the Audubon Society of Portland.  As these groups engaged in the state’s lengthy stakeholder involvement process, we helped our clients push for environmentally protective, unambiguous, and legally enforceable requirements to ensure that our important ocean ecosystems are protected from impacts of wave energy development.  The success of this new renewable energy source in Oregon remains to be seen, but thanks to the efforts of all who engaged in this process, we hope that the exploration of wave energy will be in harmony with both the natural ocean ecosystems and the existing ocean users.