SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Tens of thousands of people in California and across the country have spent their summer writing to the federal government in opposition of the Trump administration's efforts to weaken environmental protections of marine sanctuaries and marine monuments.
The letters to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in recent weeks are in response to President Trump's America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, an executive order signed in April to review expansions to marine monuments and sanctuaries over the last decade.
People across the Bay Area, the state and the country wrote tens of thousands of public comments urging the NOAA and U.S. Secretary of Commerce to uphold the Marine Sanctuary designations of 11 sites that the President has asked to be reviewed, including four in California.
Trump's executive order implemented a national policy aimed at encouraging energy exploration and production in offshore waters in order "to maintain the nation's position as a global energy leader."
California Attorney General Becerra wrote a letter to NOAA on Wednesday urging the federal government "not to waste taxpayer money" on revisiting the designation or expansions of National Marine Sanctuaries. He argues that not only is it not necessary, "but it is also based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the applicable legal requirements that govern the creation and expansion of marine sanctuaries."
The areas the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will review are expansions to Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
"The fossil fuel resources underneath these sanctuaries are miniscule or entirely speculative, and the potential to develop such resources is greatly outweighed by the benefits that the sanctuaries provide," Becerra wrote.
People living near the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, north of San Francisco, wrote thousands of comments pointing to the scientific and economic importance of protecting the marine sanctuaries.
"I am an 87-year old resident of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County in Northern California. I wholeheartedly support extension of the Greater Farralones National Marine Sanctuary. Our gorgeous, beneficial, productive coastal waters cannot be endangered by energy companies and their activities -- and the unavoidable eventual catastrophic accidents and environmental disasters."
"I am a HUGE TRUMP SUPPORTER!! I love what you stand for. Please continue to make America great again! However, I am horrified by the continuing attacks mounted against our protected marine sanctuaries and monuments. "
"Whenever I see San Francisco Bay or Monterey Bay I see beauty that is so breathtaking I cannot imagine spoiling it for the next generations to come. I look at Yosemite, Grand Canyon and any of the other National Parks and preserves and am very thankful that my ancestors chose to save it all. My generation can do no less."
In addition to the thousands of concerned citizens who commented publicly, employees from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey Chamber of Commerce, the Oceanic Society, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and groups such as the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association, also expressed their concern and urged the government to keep the existing protections for the 11 areas slated for review.
"Here on California's Central Coast, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) lies at the core of our economy and cultural heritage. The iconic coastline it protects is rich with marine wildlife and maritime history, drawing millions of visitors and generating 2.7 billion dollars each year in Monterey County alone. Much of this tourism is focused on enjoying the coastal habitat that the sanctuary protects – which provides world-class scuba diving, whale watching, kayaking, paddle boarding, and more. The costs of managing the sanctuary are far outweighed by its benefits."
"As members of the Monterey business community, we know firsthand the connection between a healthy ocean and a strong economy. The benefits of protecting the wildlife and habitats off our coast far outweigh any costs associated with managing the Sanctuary and preventing oil and gas development. We have seen the impact offshore oil and gas extraction can have on coastal areas in California and other parts of the U.S., and we are not willing to accept this risk in our region. We are proud to be leaders in a community that values its natural resources, and we believe it is possible to achieve both economic and environmental success."
"The Marine Sanctuaries currently under review provide unique environments where protected species and submerged cultural resources can be observed first-hand by divers and snorkelers. Divers have long been concerned with the effects of pollution and other potential sources of damage to these environments – whether from run-off that originates from populated regions in proximity to diving areas, or from other sources."
San Francisco, Mendocino, Marin and Sonoma counties have all passed resolutions to protect California's National Marine Sanctuary designations, citing not only environmental reasons but also economic reasons not to reduce protections of marine sanctuaries off the California coast.
"The Sanctuaries provide essential support to our fisheries, which are a driving economic force in our coastal communities. Multi generations of fishermen and their families will be impacted should the protections now in place for this industry not be continued."
The seven other extensions under review are part of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument 1, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
"Papahãnaumokuãkea is a unique marine ecosystem that protects thousands of species, many of which can only be found in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and its surrounding waters. The monument is also a World War II memorial as it is the final resting place for many braves sailors and airmen who paid the ultimate price in the Battle of Midway, the turning point for the Pacific Theater. Finally, the expanded monument better protects this critical cultural seascape for my constituents in the Native Hawaiian community."
Ige closes his letter of concern with, "E ola ke kai, e oa k~kou — As the ocean thrives, so do we."
The deadline for public comment on the review of expansions to National Marine Sanctuaries and National Marine Monuments was initially set for July 26, but due to "public interest and requests for additional time," the deadline for comments has been extended to Aug. 14, according to NOAA.
By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.
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