Wednesday, 22 October 2008 00:00 By Gemma Q. Casas - Variety News Staff
PRESIDENT Bush will decide whether to designate a marine monument in the CNMI before he leaves the White House on Jan. 20, 2009.
James Connaughton, the president’s senior environmental advisor and chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said Bush and first lady Laura Bush have been briefed a few times about the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument project, which involves designating 115,000 square miles of waters around the islands of Uracas, Maug and Asuncion as a federally protected area.
“President Bush and [Mrs.] Bush…are very interested and excited in calling the world’s attention to the central Pacific Region in a way that the world hasn’t focused on this region before,” Connaugton told the Variety in an interview yesterday.
Connaughton is among four White House officials who will make the final recommendation to the president regarding the CNMI marine monument proposal.
“We will complete our assessment by the end of this month. The secretaries of Defense, the Interior, Commerce and me will formulate recommendations. Any final decision will come from President Bush and I will not speak for President Bush at this point,” Connaughton said.
He added, “There is no question he will make a decision before he leaves office and that decision could be ‘Proceed with the monument that has met the concerns expressed by officials’; or ‘Set and place a process for further evaluation for the program,’ which might take years.”
Connaughton said the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey have considered designating a protected marine area in the Marianas region for years.
He said they want to assure the local people that the proposal is well-intentioned.
“We’re building on a very solid foundation of work,” he added.
According to Connaughton, the study to back up their recommendations on the marine monument proposal will be “comprehensive.”
“It’s looking at the biology, the natural resources. It’s looking at the geology and we’re also trying to understand the cultural resources. There is a historical component to this. We’re also taking into account the social and economic benefits. We will pull together all the information we have and we will use that as a basis for deciding whether additional action will be beneficial,” he said.