Next Tuesday, President Obama is expected to propose a huge increase to federally-protected ocean waters. The president would use his executive authority to declare 200 nautical miles around seven islands and atolls off-limits to human interference.
The United States has sovereignty over 13 percent of territorial waters, the most of any nation. This proposal would expand the 87,000 protected square miles of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to almost 782,000 square miles – making it the largest marine sanctuary in the world.
“I’m going to use my authority to protect some of our nation’s most precious marine landscapes,” Obama has said. From plastic pollution to acidification, the ocean faces the risk of becoming polluted beyond repair. According to Obama, “[w]e cannot afford to let that happen. That’s why the United States is leading the fight to protect our oceans.”
Republicans, already irate over the President’s proposal to cut domestic carbon emissions by 30 percent, are expected to oppose this measure on principle.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) has already voiced his disapproval. “It’s another example of this imperial presidency,” he said in an interview.
Environmentally sound or not, the debate will likely be divided by party lines with Obama-sympathizers seeing his use of executive authority as a necessary measure in the face of extreme partisanship and Obama-detractors seeing the move as a political overreach. “If there are marine sanctuaries that should be put in place,” said Hastings, “that should go through Congress.”
Secretary of State John Kerry sees the issue as beyond any one country. Speaking to an international coalition at this week’s ocean summit, Kerry explained, “The bottom line is that most people don’t realize that if the entire world doesn’t come together to try to change course and protect the ocean from unsustainable fishing practices, unprecedented pollution, or the devastating effects of climate change, then we run the risk of fundamentally breaking entire ecosystems.”