Washington – President Donald Trump’s latest executive order threatens newly won protections for an underwater national monument located 150 miles off the coast of Cape Cod.
With a stroke of a pen Wednesday, Trump ordered the Interior Department to review a number of monuments created by former President Obama under the Antiquities Act and identify ones that can be rescinded or resized as part of a push to open up more federal lands to drilling, mining and other development.
One of the monuments Obama created is the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, also known as the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts area.
It is a massive undersea area where the continental shelf drops off into the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean, In those deep waters, four extinct underwater volcanoes, called seamounts, provide habitat for a number of cold-water corals that are hundreds, and some thousands, of years old.
The ecosystem provides a breeding and feeding ground for a number of fish and other marine animals, including whales.
In an executive order signed on Sept. 15, Obama said, “These canyons and seamounts, and the ecosystem they compose, have long been of intense scientific interest.”
“Scientists from government and academic oceanographic institutions have studied the canyons and seamounts using research vessels, submarines, and remotely operated underwater vehicles for important deep-sea expeditions that have yielded new information about living marine resources.” The presidential proclamation said, “Much remains to be discovered about these unique, isolated environments and their geological, ecological, and biological resources.”
Trump’s executive order is thought to especially target western lands that were put off limits to development by Obama’s creation of about two dozen federally protected national monuments toward the end of his term.
“Altogether, the previous administration bypassed the states to place over 265 million acres — that’s a lot of land, million acres,” Trump said. “Think of it — 265 million acres of land and water under federal control through the abuse of the monuments designation. That’s larger than the entire state of Texas.”
The New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts area are part of the Atlantic waters Obama put off limits to new oil and gas leases. Federal protection also bars deep-sea fishing in those waters.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of a coalition of New England lawmakers and environmentalists who sought national monument designation for coral canyons and seamounts, said all national monuments are threatened. He called the executive order “unprecedented and unconscionable.”
“From the Grand Canyon and Stonewall to the Coral Canyons and Seamounts — the first-ever monument in the Atlantic Ocean that I fought for last year— the measures Trump seeks to undo have protected pristine, historically significant sites from harmful activity,” Blumenthal said.
“This review is a charade likely leading to a sellout to special interests.”