Defenders and opponents of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are moving back into their familiar battle stations as Republican President Trump reopens the review process that led to the preserve’s expansion by President Obama last summer.
On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order in Washington ordering Ryan Zinke, secretary of the Interior, to conduct a review of national monuments created under the Antiquities Act of 1906. He is calling for additional study of all preserves established since 1996 that cover more than 100,000 acres, which includes Papahanaumokuakea, and about two dozen other monuments around the country.
Kitty Simonds, executive director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, a long-time opponent of the expansion of Papahanaumokuakea, is welcoming Trump’s intervention. In an email to Civil Beat, she called Trump’s executive order “appropriate.”
She said the council, which wants the marine preserve reopened to commercial fishing, has “highlighted its concerns about the monuments to the last Administration and the current Administration,” and plans to “reiterate” its position with the Interior secretary.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat and early sponsor of the expansion, called the president’s executive order “unnecessary,” and said that the views of local people were thoroughly considered before the preserve was expanded.
At a press conference at the Interior Department on Wednesday, Trump criticized the Obama administration for what he called an “egregious use of power” in authorizing large monuments like Papahanaumokuakea. He said that local communities had not been given enough opportunity to comment and protest plans for large preserves, particularly in cases where they hurt local employment.
“Today we’re putting the states back in charge,” he said.
‘A Disservice To Everyone’
In Hawaii, state officials disagreed. On Thursday, officials at the two state agencies — the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Land and Natural Resources — that serve together as trustees of the Papahanaumokuakea preserve, said Trump’s review is unnecessary.
“The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument expansion in 2016 underwent very extensive public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders, including direct meetings and public forums to hear from the public,” DNLR officials said in a statement. “It would be a disservice to everyone to revisit this decision after such an exhaustive public process.”
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs said the preserve has wide public support.
“OHA stands behind the countless Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practitioners, navigators, scientists, conservationists, and others who called for the 2006 creation and the 2016 expansion,” OHA said in a statement. “We believe that the current size and structure of this monument, and OHA’s place as co-trustee for the area, should be maintained.”
Four large Pacific region preserves fall into the review category designated by the Trump administration. They include Papahanaumokuakea, which covers 583,000 square miles; Rose Atoll, 13,400 square miles; the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument, 490,000 square miles; and the Marianas Trench preserve, 95,200 square miles.
The photo of the signing ceremony showed which politicians around the country had been active in lobbying for Trump’s administrative action. They included elected officials from Alaska, Utah, California, West Virginia and Maine, where Republican politicians have objected to the creation of large national monuments in their states.
Three Pacific Island representatives were also prominent in the picture, U.S. Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, a Republican who serves as House of Representatives delegate from American Samoa; Gov. Ralph Torres of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands; and Gov. Eddie Calvo of Guam.
Torres and Calvo are Republicans who were early supporters of Trump. Radewagen served on the Trump administration’s transition team.
Governor Silent So Far
Papahanaumokuakea was created by President George W. Bush in 2006 and expanded fourfold by President Barack Obama in August. During the planning period for the expansion last year, the proposed increase in the preserve’s size was hotly debated in Hawaii, with environmentalists adamantly supporting it and commercial fishermen vehemently opposing it. State legislators were divided on the issue.
Environmentalists denounced Trump’s action this week.
“This is unfortunate and very short-sighted,” said Paul Achitoff, managing attorney of Earthjustice, mid-Pacific office, in an interview with Civil Beat. He called Papahanaumokuakea “a unique place that needs to be preserved from degradation.”
Rep. Radewagen of American Samoa sees it as a sovereignty issue.
“Our people have been cut off from access to regions of the Pacific that we have fished for over a millennium,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to the corresponding actions that will come to us as a result of this review, and getting our fishermen back on the waters that have sustained use long before any relationship with the United States.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 allows a president to create a monument by proclamation, without congressional action being required. It has been used by both Republican and Democratic presidents in the past century, but Obama made use of the authority more than any other president, using it to create or expand some 34 monuments around the country and far into the Pacific Ocean.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and Hawaii Gov. David Ige, who are both up for re-election next year, did not respond to a request for comment about the executive order signed by Trump.
But the DLNR cited Ige’s letter of support for the monument’s expansion last year, and Hirono signed on to a letter expressing “concern” about the president’s action.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who represents Hawaii’s 1st District, told Civil Beat in an interview on Tuesday that she had originally opposed the expansion of the marine preserve at the time it was being considered because of the possible implications for fishermen.
But on Thursday, Hanabusa, who serves on the House Natural Resources Committee, joined a group of Democrats raising concerns about any “misguided actions” that could injure monuments, particularly at a time when the Interior Department faces budget cutbacks. They asked Zinke how the administration plans to conduct its review.
On Tuesday, the debate over the monuments will be aired again in Washington. Republicans have scheduled an oversight hearing on what they are calling the “Consequences of Executive Branch Overreach of the Antiquities Act.”
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.