The Trump administration’s effort to weaken environmental protections continued Monday as the Commerce Department solicited public comment for a review that could lead to the reduction in size of 11 marine sanctuaries and monuments.
Commerce quietly published a notice in the Federal Register as part of President Trump’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, an executive order signed in April. Among the monuments and sanctuaries designated and expanded in the past decade by former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush that could be reduced and opened to oil and gas exploration are the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument off Hawaii, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument off American Samoa, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary off California and the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary off Michigan.
Written comments must be submitted by July 26. They can also be sent electronically.
“The Secretary of Commerce will use the review to inform the preparation of a report” as called for by the executive order, the notice said.
Four of the marine monuments and sanctuaries were designated or expanded during the Bush administration. The rest were protected by the Obama administration.
The notice specified that “the area of the original designations for the five listed National Marine Sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument are not subject to this review, rather only their respective expansion areas completed in the past 10 years.” Of the six sanctuary expansions, two — Channel Islands and Monterey Bay off California — were under the Bush administration. Obama expanded four: the Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones in California, Thunder Bay in Michigan and the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.
Trump’s order to review marine conservation sites is part of a larger effort that could lead to the reduction of more than two dozen monuments and sanctuaries designated and expanded by his predecessors. The most controversial is the Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah, which Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended for reduction, despite more than 1 million comments supporting it.
Zinke recommended putting aside a final determination on Bears Ears until other monuments, such as Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Gold Butte in Nevada, Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico, San Gabriel Mountains in California and Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado, can be reviewed later in the year.
Conservation groups have said the president’s legal authority to dramatically alter monuments is dubious, and vowed to sue to preserve Bears Ears and other sites.