Energy & Environment

Court upholds Obama’s Atlantic Ocean national monument

A federal court Friday upheld the massive national monument former President Obama created off of the New England coast in the Atlantic Ocean.

In a blow to commercial fishing and other industries who felt the protections afforded by the monument significantly impede their businesses, Judge James Boasberg ruled that the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument complied with the law.

The case, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association v. Wilbur Ross, centered on arguments that the 1906 Antiquities Act does not allow presidents to protect bodies of water, that the government doesn’t have sufficient control of water many miles offshore and that the nearly 5,000-square-mile monument was too large.

{mosads}“In all, plaintiffs offer no factual allegations explaining why the entire monument, including not just the seamounts and canyons but also their ecosystems, is too large,” wrote Boasberg, a District Court judge for the District of Columbia who was nominated to the bench by Obama.

He said that the court, legislative and administrative history of the Antiquities Act, the law that grants presidents the power to create monuments, makes it clear that waterways can be protected.

“The Antiquities Act reaches lands both dry and wet,” he declared.

Obama created the monument in 2016 to protect unique ecosystems in a series of undersea canyons and seamounts on and near the continental shelf, about 130 miles from Massachusetts’s Cape Cod.

The protected areas are critical to imperiled species like whales and sea turtles. Obama said the areas are at particular risk from climate change.

The decision could create a key precedent regarding presidents’ ability to use the Antiquities Act to protect places in oceans and entire ecosystems.

Jonathan Wood, an attorney with the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation who represented the lobstermen’s group, said the decision is “disappointing.” He said he would appeal the case to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“For a full century after the Antiquities Act was enacted in 1906, 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.”

Wood said Obama used a “novel reinterpretation” of the word “land” to justify the monument. He declined to say whether the group would appeal the ruling.

The Department of Commerce, whose National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oversees the monument, declined to comment on the decision.

Obama used the Antiquities Act more than two dozen times during his eight years in office and unilaterally protected more land and water than any president before him.

President Trump has been highly critical of some of Obama’s monument designations. In December, he significantly slashed the size of both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments — the latter a creation of former President Clinton — arguing that they encroached on the rights of locals and businesses.

Conservation and American Indian groups have sued to stop those rollbacks.

But the Trump administration helped to defend Obama’s Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monument, telling Boasberg in April that the protections were well within the president’s authority.

— Updated 1:08 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump national monuments Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument Wilbur Ross

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