Public support for marine sanctuaries and monuments, including four that protect much of the California coast from oil drilling, was nearly unanimous in a sampling of letters submitted to the federal government, according to a review by an ocean conservation group.
More than 99 percent of the people who submitted comments on President Donald Trump’s order to reconsider recent additions to the monuments and sanctuaries advocated leaving them in place, the Marine Conservation Institute said.
Only one of the 1,000 letters randomly selected by the institute from a pool of 52,765 letters officially accepted by the Department of Commerce was equivocal on the value of the 11 marine reserves targeted by Trump, including sanctuaries that protect the coast from San Luis Obispo County to Point Arena in Mendocino County.
Whether Trump, who declared an “America First” offshore energy policy in April, will be influenced by public sentiment remains to be seen, ocean advocates said.
“Will the White House pay attention? That’s a very good question,” said Lance Morgan of Glen Ellen, a marine biologist who is president of the nonprofit institute.
“There is going to be politics at play and we just don’t know all of them,” he said.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor who has a stake in a fleet of oil tankers, is responsible for reviewing all additions to sanctuaries and monuments since 2007 and sending a report to the White House by Oct. 25.
Included in his review are two sanctuaries that were more than doubled in 2015 and now cover nearly 4,600 square miles of ocean off the North Coast.
Morgan said he was “thrilled” by the strong support for sanctuaries indicated by the sample of letters. The Commerce Department received nearly 88,000 comments, and included 52,675 in its official comment file.
Comments with private, proprietary, duplicative or “inappropriate” language could be redacted, the regulations.gov website said.
North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said the comments were a “very strong reaffirmation of incredible public support for marine sanctuaries and monuments.
“I hope Donald Trump, who has tended to care a lot about ratings and public opinion over the years, will listen to what the public is telling him about protecting our oceans and hanging on to these sanctuaries and monuments,” Huffman said in an email.
Michael Gravitz, director of policy and regulation for the conservation institute, said he personally reviewed the 1,000 sampled comments.
“I feel pretty confident the results are accurate,” he said. “They’re just surprising.”
Trump’s April 28 executive order mandated a review of marine sanctuary and monument expansions to consider the cost of managing them, the adequacy of public input in creating them and the foregone cost of “potential energy exploration and production” in federal offshore waters.
The Western States Petroleum Association did not submit a comment.
Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the oil trade group, said last month she was “not aware of any of our members champing at the bit to pursue the opportunity in California.”
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.