There are few things the environmental community and the oil and gas industry agree on. But here is one: the need for the United States to join the Law of the Sea Convention, a worthy global agreement that the US Senate has stubbornly refused to ratify for nearly 30 years.
Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is determined to try once again to win approval. The treaty has been in force since 1994, but the United States cannot join in its deliberations.
The treaty is as sensible a document as one can imagine. Written under United Nations auspices in 1982, and since ratified by 162 countries and the European Union, it gives each nation control over its coastal waters — a 200-mile “exclusive economic zone” — and then sets up rules governing everything from navigation to deep-sea mining.
Yet over the years, a small group of cranky right-wingers and xenophobic activists have managed to bully Senate leaders into inaction. They claim that the treaty somehow infringes national sovereignty by agreeing to negotiated rules on shipping, environmental protection and mining — in international waters.
On Wednesday, in the first of a series of committee hearings designed to rally support, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all pressed the case for ratification.
Mrs. Clinton made the economic case, one also made by petroleum and mining interests. By refusing to ratify the treaty, she said, the United States will not have a seat at the table when the time comes to negotiate claims to the vast oil and gas resources that are believed to lie in Arctic waters outside each nation’s exclusive economic zone — deposits that are becoming more accessible as the earth warms and the ice melts.
Mr. Panetta and General Dempsey emphasized the security benefits, arguing that the treaty provides a mechanism for resolving disputes over strategically important waterways. “Frankly,” Mr. Panetta said, “I don’t think this is a close call.” It really never has been.
— The New York Times editorial