Protecting the sea: An Obama order offers help to ocean habitats

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Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama said he would use his executive authority to extend the prohibition against commercial fishing and energy production to 200 miles around the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, an unspoiled habitat for fish and migratory birds under federal oversight.

In one of George W. Bush’s last official acts as president, he gave monument status to nearly 87,000 square miles of the same pristine marine environment. Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama limited fishing, recreational development and energy exploration in that stretch of uninhabited aquatic wilderness.

Mr. Obama expanded the area Mr. Bush sought to protect by adding another 150 nautical miles to the zone around the marine sanctuary. The two presidents agreed that as one of humanity’s greatest treasures, the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument should be protected from the kind of exploitation that routinely takes place around the world.

Such a major expansion of ocean sanctuary does not sit well with Republican lawmakers. They already resent Mr. Obama’s willingness to use his executive authority. The GOP also believes the Obama administration’s recognition of the reality of man-made climate change hovers in the background of every environmental decision.

The right of energy companies to extract fossil fuels and natural gas wherever they can be found as well as the fishing industry’s desire to fish in protected waters are also private-sector prerogatives that Republicans champion. They believe Mr. Obama over-regulates the environment to the detriment of the American economy.

Mr. Obama understands that he won’t get any leeway in the Republican-controlled House, so taking executive action allowed by law is the only way to get important things done regarding the environment.

Mr. Obama’s order will go into effect later this year after the public has had a chance to comment. Although the president will be doubling the area of ocean under U.S. protection, it is a drop in the bucket compared to vast expanses where pollution reigns and fish populations are close to collapse.

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