September 21, 2015

Reed & Whitehouse Want RI Voices Heard on Marine Monuments

Senators support concept of a marine monument off New England coast, but want the White House to provide public with details and seek community input from those most affected

WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) say that creating a new, federally protected marine reserve in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Rhode Island and southern New England presents a real opportunity, but they are urging the Obama administration to be transparent about the process and provide far more details about the proposed reserve’s boundaries. 

After the White House signaled its intention to designate a vast area of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Rhode Island and southern New England as the first Marine National Monument on the Eastern Seaboard, Reed and Whitehouse sent a letter to the President stressing “the importance of an open process and stakeholder engagement when it comes to marine planning.”

While nothing official has been proposed, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently held a “listening session” in Providence where discussions centered on preserving an area that contains several deep-sea canyons and ‘seamounts,’ or underwater mountains, located about 150 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. 

“The ocean is our life support system and we need to be smart and forward thinking if we’re going to protect it.  As we look to safeguard our oceans for future generations, we will be best served by a process that is fact-based, transparent, and involves all stakeholders.  Indeed, before the Administration acts, Rhode Islanders deserve an opportunity to see and comment on the boundaries of a proposed marine monument and consider the benefits and impacts such a designation will produce,” said Reed.  “We should take the time to do this right.”

“In Rhode Island, we are committed to protecting both our ocean ecosystems and the livelihoods that depend on them,” said Whitehouse, who serves as co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus and has long fought for legislation to provide a reliable stream of funding to help protect our oceans and coasts.  “I applaud President Obama’s commitment to ocean conservation and I’m optimistic that a marine monument proposal can be reached that will benefit our region, but I hope we will first have a chance to work with all stakeholders – as we have done before on ocean planning issues like wind farm siting – to design a plan that works for everyone.”

The Antiquities Act allows presidents to protect lands and waters already owned by the American people, and requires no public process.  In 2009, then President George W. Bush designated three Marine National Monuments (MNMs) in the Pacific Ocean by Presidential Proclamation.  President Obama expanded that effort.  However, to this date there are no Marine National Monuments on the Eastern seaboard.

Text of the letter follows:

September 18, 2015

The Honorable Barack Obama

The White House

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Mr. President:

As U.S. Senators from the “Ocean State” we know how vital healthy oceans are to the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the livelihoods of our fellow Americans. 

Given the many challenges our oceans face — from pollution to climate change to increasing acidification — the United States and all coastal nations must protect and conserve ocean resources.  We understand your Administration is considering designating a number of deep-sea coral canyons and underwater seamounts off the coast of New England as a national monument.  We write to urge you that this decision be made with appropriate regard for the stakeholder process that has been undertaken in New England, consistent with your National Ocean Policy.

You have clear authority under the Antiquities Act to name national monuments.  However, you have emphasized in your National Ocean Policy the importance of an open process and stakeholder engagement when it comes to marine planning.  Indeed, the implementation plan for the National Ocean Policy states it will “enable broad participation from stakeholders and the public in decisions that impact the oceans….”   We hope that can be the case here.

On Tuesday, September 15th, NOAA held a public listening session in Providence, Rhode Island, on behalf of the Administration.  We hope this will not be the only opportunity for public comment, because, unfortunately, there is not yet sufficient specificity as to the Administration’s plans for this area.  This lack of clarity means, among other things, that Rhode Islanders who fish in the area are unsure what effect the monument designation will have on their livelihoods.  And until final boundaries are proposed, the benefits of protecting these unique ecosystems cannot be fully evaluated.  This vagueness led our state’s top environmental official to express concern with the process during the session.

We respectfully request the following actions before any designation takes place:

  1. A clear explanation of the boundaries of the proposed marine monuments and the limitations that will be imposed.
  2. Engagement by the Council on Environmental Quality, NOAA, and other relevant federal agencies with local and regional experts and stakeholders, including the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, and regional fishery management councils and commissions, in order to hear the needs of those who will be affected by a designation and to build confidence in the process.
  3. Respect for the oceans planning process that we in New England have developed in accordance with your National Ocean Policy.

We believe there is broad support for protecting our ocean environment, and that the Administration should strive to build on that support through an open and public process.  There is much to be gained from continuing the positive work of building trust with local stakeholders and giving them a chance to weigh in.

Thank you for your attention to this request and we look forward to your prompt reply.


Jack Reed

Sheldon Whitehouse

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921