By Christa Rodriguez || Campus Life Editor
F&M Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Elizabeth De Santo spoke at this week’s Common Hour, which focused on protecting Monuments and the legal case behind it. De Santo is a human geographer with training in environmental law, history of international relations, environmental management, and marine zoology. This special version of Common Hour, called Now Hour, is proposed during the fall semester and offers a timely topic. Emily Lindback ’20 proposed last Thursday’s Now Hour.
De Santo introduced the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows the President of the United States and Congress to establish Monuments, while only giving Congress the power to undo the designation. The requirements of the Monuments include having historical significance, but now the more recent areas are designated more for the protection of biodiversity, which some do not fits under the act. However, she disagrees, citing the scientific significance that is included under the act. She also argued that many of the marine areas under the act have been battlegrounds and graveyards for World War II, as well as military bases and areas of important testing for the U.S.
The executive orders given by the current administration to review the designations under the Antiquities Act puts several Monuments at risk for reduction or modification. As stated earlier, the President does not legally have the authorization under the act to get rid of these Monuments – only Congress does. She noted that past Presidents have set a precedent for reducing Monuments, but no more than that. Additionally, she has transparency concerns with the review process, as a list of ten national Monuments proposed for reduction and modification were leaked by to the media. To De Santo, this is a red flag that the administration is not being open about its actions concerning the Monuments.
De Santo spoke specifically about the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the first and only marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, which has great biodiversity. She touched on the fact that protecting these ecosystems will also help the ocean deal with the effects of climate change.
There are several Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that, according to De Santo, are like national parks for the ocean. Many are closed to fishing, mining, and extraction of oil and gas. Other countries have followed the lead of the U.S. and have their own MPAs. Under review, these areas are in danger of losing their protections.
De Santo commented that a big interest in reducing these protections involves the potential for oil and gas extraction, especially in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. But De Santo warned that even offshore oil and gas exploration can also be a threat to the ocean and the sea life in them. As an alternative, she pointed to offshore energy that can be renewable, such as the wind turbines currently off the coast of Rhode Island.
With these ideas in mind, De Santo questions the appropriateness and legality of the review by the current administration. She ended her talk with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
Junior Christa Rodriguez is the Campus Life Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.