March 17, 2017 — The designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts as a national monument last summer might have appeared to be the end of a battle between environmentalists and commercial fishermen, but the installation of an administration focused on deregulation has revived the fight.
The House Committee on Natural Resources on Wednesday held an oversight hearing on the creation of national monuments that included testimony from New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, as well as representatives of extractive industries, academia and commercial tuna fishing. Mayor Mitchell, who couldn’t attend the hearing because of weather-disrupted travel plans, testified about the impact on both the red crab fishery and those fisheries that involve migratory fish that swim in the upper part of the water column. There were questions from committee members that reflected both sides of the issue, including one from a Democrat questioning the validity of the mayor’s argument about migratory fish. The response by University of North Carolina biology professor John Bruno to Democratic Virginia Rep. Don Beyer was that the entire water column needs protection.
Mayor Mitchell also lamented the lack of stakeholder input involved in the monument designation through the executive instrument of the Antiquities Act used by President Barack Obama last year.
Republican Alaska Rep. Don Young also wondered at the Antiquities Act during the hearing, attributing more than just conservation as the goal to the former president: Rep. Young believes the ocean designations made under President Obama were calculated to limit offshore drilling and mining.
Rep. Young noted forcefully that Congress did not create the Antiquities Act to protect oceans, and it represented a clear case of executive overreach.
The Standard-Times is generally in favor of policies that reduce fossil fuel extraction. Nevertheless, Rep. Young’s observation about the Antiquities Act, Mayor Mitchell’s complaint about its use, and the duty of oversight point to the issue of Congress’ intent, which should have weight in the committee’s opinion. Congress has the authority to rein in the bureaucracy, though it doesn’t always exercise that authority.