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E&E News: Dems Urge Obama To Be Transparent About Marine Monument Plans
By: Emily Yehle

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 14, 2015 -

The Obama administration is now facing pressure from Democrats to be more open about a possible marine monument off New England.

Massachusetts Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to Obama yesterday asking for more public input into the possible monument. The Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Charitable Trusts and other groups launched a campaign last month to protect underwater canyons and seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean, but commercial fishermen have argued they won't get enough say if Obama uses the Antiquities Act.

House Republicans say the century-old law gives too much power to the president, and the House Natural Resources Committee recently held a hearing to blast marine monuments (E&E Daily, Sept. 30). The letter from Markey and Warren, however, emphasizes that Obama has "clear authority" to create the New England monument under the act.

The letter -- also signed by Massachusetts Reps. Stephen Lynch, William Keating and Seth Moulton -- instead urges Obama to "engage stakeholders further before making a final decision."

"We ask you to build on last month's listening session in Rhode Island by expanding your stakeholder engagement efforts to include additional opportunities for our Massachusetts constituents to express their views on the potential designations in the context of ongoing conservation efforts," they wrote. "We also ask that you provide more information on the potential designations, especially the objectives, geographic scope, and possible limits to activities, to help inform these additional discussions."

The Obama administration appears to be seriously considering creation of the New England marine monument, but specifics have been scarce (Greenwire, Sept. 17). Secretary of State John Kerry indicated last week that the administration is working with New England senators to hash out the details (E&ENews PM, Oct. 6).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration held the Rhode Island listening session, listing only three of the five underwater canyons environmentalists proposed for protection. NOAA officials also left out Cashes Ledge, an area that sees little fishing now but is home to commercially important species.

In their letter, the Massachusetts Democrats cited an argument from the fishing industry that the New England Fishery Management Council already protects Cashes Ledge. But environmental groups emphasize that the council can only prohibit fishing -- and not other activities, like resource extraction -- and shrunk broader habitat protection areas this year.

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