Tuesday, October 28, 2008

'Antiquities Act the wrong tool'

By Stefan Sebastian
Business Editor

Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) is urging the White House to conserve the waters around the CNMI's northern islands under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, a statute that requires public and business sector consultations on management issues, rather than unilaterally designating the region as a national monument.

Bordallo's letter comes after local leaders in the CNMI long opposed to the Bush administration's proposal to establish a monument in the waters at issue, including Gov. Benigno Fitial, softened their stance last week in meetings with White House Council on Environmental Quality chief James Connaughton.

Talks will likely continue on the plan if measures to restore the CNMI's control over near-shore ocean resources-which it lost in a recent federal court case-play a part in them, a government spokesman has said, but the governor and other key figures are for now declining to give it their support.

In her Oct. 24 letter to Connaughton, Bordallo says that President Bush's plan to establish the proposed monument under the Antiquities Act would exclude economic interests and local communities from decision-making when it comes to how the waters would be managed. The Sanctuaries Act, she says, would serve as a more open way to craft a conservation plan for the region.

“I view retention of local flexibility to manage our marine resources in a way that balances the protections needed for sustainable marine resources with a thriving economy as an important sovereignty issue,” she writes. “The process in place under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, which involves formal public consultation of stakeholders, is a far better process that could be used to assess the merits of these proposals.”

Bordallo adds that local fisheries should remain under the control of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which regulates fisheries, and regional fisheries management councils.

“In short, where local conservation efforts have proven successful, I believe we should employ existing administrative processes that provide a proper role for ongoing local involvement in the management of our precious marine resources,” she writes. “I am extremely concerned that the process that is being employed now, in the last weeks of the Bush Administration, does not provide for adequate public input, let alone adequate congressional oversight.”

President Bush is expected to issue a decision on the monument issue before he leaves office in January.

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