My previous column raised concerns over the request to President Obama to expand the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
I start this column by clarifying for readers my perspective regarding marine conservation and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
I do join most people of Hawaii in generally supporting the establishment of the existing Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
In the hours I’ve spent researching the monument-expansion request from every possible angle, I have been frustrated that the search for answers only led to more questions.
The one thing that became clear is that given the complexity of all the moving parts of the Papahanaumokuakea issue, I would have to leave any deep dive for another day and spare you the confusion.
No doubt the impact on commercial fishing, particularly tuna, is a subject of very heated debate and should be a particularly important, if not vital concern, for Hawaii as a matter of food security and economic impact.
But any proposal to expand the existing boundaries of the monument to four times its existing area, making it twice the size of Texas, is about more than fishing.
In my opinion, the most important question, to which I’ve dedicated this column, swirls around the legal instrument used to establish the existing marine national monument. That legal instrument may be on the verge of being invoked a second time to effect a sweeping expansion of the monument’s boundaries.
Advocates of expanding the monument propose more federal control over the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands by dramatically increasing its boundaries. They urge President Obama to invoke the Antiquities Act of 1906. That act authorizes the president to bypass Congress, the state of Hawaii and the people of Hawaii.
The Antiquities Act originally was intended to fast track protection of Native American archaeological sites, historic structures and artifacts, which were subject to looting at the time, by declaring relatively small areas of land as national monuments, bringing them under federal protection.
Applying the act in a sweeping re-designation of hundreds of thousands of square miles of Hawaii’s oceans, far beyond the existing monument boundaries, is a major public policy shift with huge implications.
The act does not require any public vetting. I believe invoking the act, in this case, would be a transgression of the public’s right to the kind of formal process that normally would be required of any legislative proposal as sweeping as this.
It’s interesting how leaders in the state of Alaska, in their wisdom, got Congress to pass the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. That act required congressional approval for all national monument proclamations in Alaska greater than 5,000 acres. Alaska was preceded by Wyoming, in 1950, with a law that required congressional approval for all national monument proclamations in Wyoming.
It seems that in both cases, the proponents for shielding their states from the Antiquities Act wanted to prevent federal officials from taking away decisions they felt should be made by the citizens of their states.
The proposed expansion screams for vetting through a public disclosure and discussion process that yields the following outcomes:
My hope is that, no matter what one’s perspective might be, we can join in a request to our state and federal authorities to stage a series of public hearings and let the sun shine on Papahanaumokuakea.