Obama Faces Battle Over Expansion of Marine Sanctuary in Pacific

Tuesday, 17 Jun 2014 07:33 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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President Barack Obama was set to announce on Tuesday a proposal to turn vast areas of the Pacific Ocean into the world's largest marine sanctuary, sparking a new fight with Republicans over executive power.

As part of his initiative to clean up the environment, the measure would ban energy exploration, fishing fleets and other potentially damaging industries from using the affected areas, according to The Washington Post.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings quickly slammed the protection plan, which is being led by Secretary of State John Kerry and White House counselor John Podesta, and which allows for a public comment period over the summer.

"It's another example of this imperial presidency," the Washington Republican told the Post. "If there are marine sanctuaries that should be put in place, that should go through Congress."

Although Obama has issued executive orders 11 times to protect huge swaths of land, he has been pressed by oceanographers, scientists, and environmental advocates to do the same for the oceans.

President George W. Bush had previously declared four underwater regions off-limits, or "marine monuments," including an area called the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument that Obama is planning to expand from 87,000 square miles to 780,000 square miles, the Post reported.

The proposal, which encompasses up to 200 nautical miles off seven uninhabited seven islands and atolls controlled by the United States, is likely to anger tuna fleets, which haul in 3 percent of the nation's annual tuna catch, according to the Post.

Obama's proposal, which would quintuple the number of underwater mountains under protection, also sets out to target seafood fraud and curtail the global black-market fish trade.

His plan focuses on the central part of the Pacific Ocean and would protect several species of marine mammals, five types of threatened sea turtles, and a variety of predatory fish such as sharks. The United States controls more of the world's oceans, 13 percent, than any other country.

During a State Department conference Monday on saving the oceans, Kerry said that if the United States and other nations can't "create a serious plan to protect the ocean for future generations, then who can and who will?"

Anote Tong, president of the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati, revealed Monday that he's cutting off an area the size of California to commercial fishing. "It's our contribution to humanity," Tong told the Post.

The Obama administration also came out last week with a new rule, which would let the public decide what other marine areas off the U.S. coastline and in the Great Lakes they would like to see protected in the future, the Post said.

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