Lawmakers debate whether to name ocean waters after Reagan

Republicans and Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee argued colorfully Wednesday over a GOP bill that would name 3.4 million square nautical miles of ocean after the late President Ronald Reagan.

The panel is weighing Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) bill that would rename the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which generally extends from 3 miles to 200 miles offshore, as the Ronald Wilson Reagan Exclusive Economic Zone.

“While certain left-wing organizations have characterized this legislation as trivial, there is no debate our 40th president served with the highest distinction,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), speaking in favor of the bill that honors Reagan’s 1983 designation of the EEZ.

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“During his eight years in office, the Cold War ended, the Soviet Union began to collapse, the American people lived in prosperity and our national debt was less than $3 trillion,” Fleming added.

Democrats criticized the bill before it cleared the committee without formal objection and without coming to a roll call vote.

“President Reagan’s name already graces roads, schools, buildings, and fields in 22 states and the District of Columbia, not to mention a major airport and a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier,” Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) said during the debate.

“But naming the entire EEZ after anyone seems a bit much. After all, we are talking about 3.4 million square miles of ocean, an area larger than the combined land mass of all 50 states,” he added. “We don’t live in the United States of Coolidge, or fly through the Warren. G. Harding airspace. Why should we steam or sail on the Reagan ocean?”

Lowenthal and other Democrats also noted that it’s a 1982 international treaty, called the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, that authorized nations to establish their EEZs. Reagan did not sign the treaty and the U.S. has still not ratified it.

“This bill is particularly ironic since President Reagan did not support the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. As we all know this is the framework that allows countries to peacefully claim as sovereign territory the EEZs out to 200 miles off their shores,” Lowenthal said.

Republicans bristled at the comments.

Reagan established the U.S. EEZ with a 1983 presidential proclamation that declared the nation’s sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting and conserving offshore resources, including energy.

“The authority for President Reagan to issue his executive order [establishing the EEZ] did not come from the United Nations or from the Law of the Sea Treaty. It came from the sovereignty of the United States government, a concept that somehow seems to escape some members of this Congress,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said.

And Fleming took a shot at President Obama in defending the bill to name the EEZ after Reagan.

“The point has been made that the EEZ is so expansive that one single president shouldn’t get the full credit due to the size of it, but I would also suggest that President Obama is getting credit for one-sixth of the economy under ObamaCare,” Fleming said, referring to the healthcare market’s share of the economy.

“So surely president Ronald Reagan is worthy of this classification,” he said.

Under Issa's legislation, references to the EEZ in U.S. laws, regulations, maps and other documents would carry Reagan’s name.

The U.S. has the largest EEZ in the world, spanning more than 13,000 miles of coastline and containing 3.4 million square nautical miles of ocean, according to Interior Department testimony on the legislation last year.



The EEZ includes waters off U.S. states, and adjacent to other territories, such as Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands.

This post was updated at 2:33 p.m.