Wide Swaths of Pacific to Get Shield in Obama Plan

President Barack Obama proposed shielding more of the Pacific Ocean from energy development or commercial fishing, saying the effects of climate change required new environmental protections.

The administration tied the actions to protect the marine areas with Obama’s push to combat the risks of global warming, which a National Climate Assessment said is affecting the economy and the environment.

Two weeks ago, the administration released a proposal to curb power-plant carbon emissions, its boldest action yet to address climate threats. As with earlier efforts, the ocean plan drew praise from environmental groups and complaints from Republicans in Congress. Representative Doc Hastings of Washington said fencing off more territory from fishermen or energy companies threatened to “shut down our oceans.”

“Rising levels of carbon dioxide are causing our oceans to acidify,” Obama said today in a video message presented at an oceans conference at the State Department. “Pollution endangers marine life. Overfishing threatens whole species, as well as the people who depend on them for food and their livelihoods.”

The administration is considering expanding protections around the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, seven atolls and islands in the south-central Pacific Ocean, according to a fact sheet from the White House Council for Environmental Quality.

Pristine Region

John Podesta, counselor to the president, said at the State Department conference that the area west of Hawaii is a pristine tropical environment that faced a “serious threat from climate change and ocean acidification.”

The administration would weigh input from fishermen, scientists, lawmakers and others about how much territory controlled by the U.S. should be set aside in the Pacific, he said.

The area was originally set aside by President George W. Bush two weeks before he left office in January 2009. The Washington Post reported today that the proposal would expand the marine sanctuary by ninefold, to about 782,000 square miles from about 87,000 square miles. Podesta didn’t give details about the size of the proposed expansion.

In addition to setting aside more territory from development, the Obama plan calls for creating a strategy to combat black-market fishing. Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration set up a process to let the public propose new sanctuaries.

‘Important Resources’

Dan Utech, special assistant to the president for Energy and Climate Change, said on a conference call with reporters that “climate impacts are being felt in a variety of ways,” including in the oceans.

“Clearly we are looking at a variety of ways to protect those important resources,” Utech said in discussing the proposed carbon rules from the Environmental Protection Agency.

A White House Office of Science and Technology Policy report today said changing climate conditions are harming marine ecosystems that add about $258 billion to the economy and create 2.8 million jobs in shipping, energy development, commercial fishing, tourism and other activities.

Ocean acidification caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide can “harm the growth of plants and animals, including recreationally and commercially important fish and shellfish,” according to the report.

Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group, said in a statement that the administration’s plan will “reduce stress on the ocean at a time when it is already feeling the effects of climate change and ocean acidification from carbon pollution.”

Hastings, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Obama’s plan would hurt the economy by setting aside vast swaths of territory from development.

“It appears this administration will use whatever authorities -- real or made-up -- to close our ocean and coastal areas with blatant disregard for possible economic consequences,” Hastings said in a statement.

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