The President and the Pacific

Jan 6, 2009 6:40pm

Environmental groups have complained for the last eight years that George W. Bush was hardly a “green” president.  But he has now left a legacy in a bright shade of blue. The three Marine National Monuments he created today collectively take up close to 200,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.  They are larger than the state of California.  They’re alive with coral, fish and seabirds.  They include the Mariana Trench, a canyon whose bottom, more than five miles down, is the deepest part of the world’s oceans.  "For sea birds and marine life, they will be sanctuaries to grow and thrive. For scientists, they will be places to extend the frontiers of discovery. And for the American people, they will be places that honor our duty to be good stewards of the Almighty’s creation," Mr. Bush said at the White House signing ceremony this afternoon.  Full text of his remarks is HERE. No President has ordered protections for as much of the world’s seas as Mr. Bush has.  In 2006 he created a 140,000-square-mile reserve in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Various insiders (take a look at the Washington Post version) say the President did hear one significant voice of opposition — Vice President Cheney, "who argued that the restrictions would create a dangerous precedent." But (see the L.A. Times) Laura Bush urged her husband to go ahead, as did James Connaughton, who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The American Sportfishing Association objected to the President’s having acted quickly, using the Antiquities Act of 1906 instead of sending out a proposal that would have required hearings. "Unlike Yellowstone, unlike the Grand Canyon, where millions of people get to visit those each year, these are areas that will be set off permanently," said Mike Nussman, the association president in an interview with us.  He said there is not, in fact, a lot of fishing in the newly-designated areas, but he objected that Congress cannot override the President’s executive order. But environmental groups did what they haven’t often done in the last eight years — they applauded the President. "We and other parts of the environmental movement have certainly been at odds with this president over a number of issues related to the environment.  But what’s important is to look at this on its own merits,” said Josh Reichert of the Pew Environment Group.  "The President did the right thing." Dr. Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist of the group Oceana: "There are so few pristine places left in the oceans that any action that protects them for future generations is absolutely wonderful and to be commended." Mr. Bush, at the White House this afternoon, was quick about announcing the new Marine Monuments, and spent much of his time at the podium talking about what he called his "common sense" approach to the environment. "We have charted the way toward a more promising era in environmental stewardship," Mr. Bush said. "While there’s a lot more work to be done, we have done our part to leave behind a cleaner and healthier and better world for those who follow us on this earth." (Photo by Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.)

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