Alaska Delegation Seeks New Limits On National Monuments

For over a hundred years, presidents have used the Antiquities Act to order permanent protections for federal land and resources at sea. Now, Alaska’s congressional delegation is looking to curb that authority.

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Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are co-sponsoring a bill that would require lawmakers to sign off before a president can set up a national monument.

Murkowski introduced similar legislation last year, and the issue has also come up in the U.S. House. But it’s closer to home now that there’s a campaign to get federal protection around the Aleutian Islands.

The boundaries of a marine sanctuary proposed by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. (Credit: PEER)
The boundaries of a marine sanctuary proposed by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. (Credit: PEER)

Rick Steiner, an Anchorage-based shipping advocate, has been leading that effort.

“Overfishing, shipping, fishing, habitat degradation, debris, climate change, what have you,” Steiner says. “They all need to be managed in an integrated way. So, I’m sorry the delegation is having a knee-jerk reaction to this potential.”

They had a similar reaction in December, when Steiner helped nominate more than 550,000 square miles of the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean to become a marine sanctuary.

Unlike monuments, sanctuaries are managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Damaging protected resources inside a sanctuary can lead to civil fines, which the Antiquities Act doesn’t address.

But NOAA ruled there wasn’t enough backing from affected communities in the Aleutians — let alone elected officials — to move forward.

Matt Brookhart is a policy chief in NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

“We understand what we don’t want to see with a nomination, and that is the nomination comes from a community that is very focused on one or two interest groups,” Brookhart said in an interview this winter.

While conservationists and research groups are still interested in a sanctuary, Steiner is pushing for executive action.

The White House has not responded to his proposal to create marine monuments in the Aleutians, along with the Bering Strait and the Arctic Coastal Plain. But as long as the president has veto power, Steiner says he’s not concerned about any legislation to limit new monuments.