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Interagency Working Group on Alaska Energy

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Department of Commerce (NOAA)

Overview of agency mission and activities

NOAA is the Federal government’s principal agency for managing and conserving marine living resources (i.e., marine fisheries, marine mammals, and coastal and marine habitats such as corals) , management of the coastal zone and sustainable development of ocean resources. NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in Earth’s environment and conserve and manage coastal and marine resources to meet our Nation’s economic, social, and environmental needs. NOAA’s primary energy-related roles are to provide federal agencies responsible for regulating energy and related infrastructure projects with science-based information, conservation recommendations, and consultations to better conserve NOAA trust resources and habitat. NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) also supports informed decision-making by a variety of energy sectors through its scientific and regulatory expertise. The agency works closely with federal regulatory agencies and industry to ensure energy-related facilities are sited and operated to avoid or minimize negative effects on fishery and protected resources. NOAA is also the lead science agency responding to oil spills in the ocean, including providing weather and oil trajectory forecasts, mapping, sensitive marine resource protection and ecosystem restoration. NOAA brings significant expertise in geospatial data (eg. Multipurpose Marine Cadastre) and support for Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning to aid in the assessment of energy site proposals, consider competing uses for ocean and coastal areas, and make informed decisions.  

Primary relevant mandates  

Marine Mammal Protection Act: Prohibits, with certain exceptions, taking of marine mammals in U.S. waters, taking by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the U.S. The term “take” is broadly defined to include non-lethal disturbance and harassment of marine mammals. NMFS issues “incidental harassment authorizations” (IHAs) under MMPA.  

Endangered Species Act: Requires federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NMFS to ensure that proposed federal actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any species listed as endangered or threatened, or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat for those species. 

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens): Federal agencies are required to consult with NMFS on proposed federal actions that may adversely affect essential fish habitats necessary for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity of federally managed fisheries, including all energy projects proposed for federal leasing or permitting in coastal or ocean environments. As part of this consultation, NMFS is required to provide conservation recommendations to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects on fish habitat.