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Barack Obama national marine monument

“I got you, whales.”


The Inertia

You know what was a good thing about Obama? That guy protected land. Like, lots of land. More land, in fact, than any president before him. He created National Monuments like the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a massive area off the coast of New England. Sure, it caused a lot of outrage, because there’s money out there to be made. There’s oil out there, damn it, and there are fish to be eaten. Then Trump came along and has spent the last 600-and-something days doing his best to undo all that because here’s oil out there, damn it, and McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish requires fish. But a federal court just shut down attempts to open the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument back up to industries hungry for its riches.

The monument was created back on September 15, 2016. It was the first national marine monument in the Atlantic, and boy-oh-boy, were there some angry folks. President Obama decided to protect the area because it’s a unique ecosystem made up of seamounts and canyons. Whales and sea turtles are abundant there, and they need it to live. Some commercial fisherman, however, also need it to live, so they yelled and screamed and gnashed their teeth and shook their fists. The Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association filed a suit that said the 1906 Antiquities Act, the act that Obama used to create the monument, didn’t allow presidents to protect bodies of water. They also claimed that the monument was too large.

Judge James Boasberg, a District Court judge for the District of Columbia and the guy who upheld the monument’s protected status, disagreed. “In all,” he wrote, “plaintiffs offer no factual allegations explaining why the entire monument, including not just the seamounts and canyons but also their ecosystems, is too large.” According to Judge Boasberg, “the Antiquities Act reaches lands both dry and wet.”

Presidents national monuments

The number of monuments created by from least to most. Image: Business Insider

“This decision guarantees that one of the most fragile and scientifically important areas in the North Atlantic will be protected from destructive activities like oil drilling and industrial fishing,” said Peter Shelley, Senior Counsel at Conservation Law Foundation, to NECN.

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The decision is a big one. It could set a precedent when it comes to presidential authority to protect marine national monuments. Trump, you will remember, cut the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments into little pieces because there were some people who wanted more money and there’s gold in them thar hills, if you catch my drift.

Interestingly, though, according to The Hill, the Trump administration defended the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monument, saying that “the protections were well within the president’s authority.” Interestingly, I say, because in April of 2017, Trump signed an executive order for an “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.” In signing it, he basically made it easier for oil companies to get lots more oil. Bills that required safer equipment were slashed and the creation of new marine sanctuaries was prohibited, all so big oil could poke its long metal dick into the planet’s guts and slurp up that sweet Texas tea. The executive order opened up vast swathes of the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and the Arctic Ocean.

Jonathan Wood, the lawyer on the losing end of the Judge’s decision, is not happy. “For a full century after the Antiquities Act was enacted in 1906, ” he said, “presidents respected its limit to ‘land owned or controlled by the Federal Government’ by not designating national monuments on the ocean beyond the nation’s territorial sea,” he said. “Today’s decision ignored that century of practice and all but eliminated any limits on the president’s monument-designation authority.”