Conservation Law Foundation v. Biden (Northeast Canyons and Seamounts)

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An octopus on the seafloor at Physalia Seamount in Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument

Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

Roughly 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod lies the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the first and only marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The monument encompasses a cluster of undersea canyons and seamounts and the exceptionally diverse ocean ecosystems in and around them. This biodiversity hot spot offers food, shelter, and nursery habitat to a diverse range of marine life, including puffins, whales, sea turtles, and numerous species of rare deep-sea cold-water corals. President Obama established the monument in 2016 to protect these ecosystems from damage by commercial fishing and other extractive activities, keeping them intact for future generations.

The monument came under attack during the Trump administration: On June 5, 2020, then-president Trump signed a proclamation purporting to roll back protections by reopening this special area to commercial fishing. NRDC and our partners—the Conservation Law Foundation, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Zack Klyver, a whale-watch naturalist based in Maine—filed a lawsuit challenging the president’s action as unlawful. Like our lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monuments, our lawsuit defending Northeast Canyons and Seamounts explains that President Trump had no statutory or constitutional authority to abolish protections for an existing national monument. 

Our lawsuit was paused shortly after filing—among other reasons, in light of a fishing industry challenge to the monument’s legality, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association v. Raimondo, in which NRDC and our partners successfully intervened.

On his first day in office President Biden issued an executive order initiating a review of Trump’s rollbacks to national monuments, including Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. A broad coalition of aquaria and scientists, conservation groups, faith leaders, youth leaders, and New England business owners called on the Biden administration to restore protections to this special place.

On October 8, 2021, President Biden issued a new proclamation restoring the monument’s protections, reinstating the ban on commercial fishing established by President Obama. Administration leaders repudiated Trump’s actions as “unprecedented,” observing that NRDC and our partners’ lawsuits “raised serious and fundamental questions as to whether a President has authority to reduce boundaries or core protections in a way that is tantamount to revocation of a monument.” President Biden restored Northeast Canyons and other national monuments, the White House explained, to preserve “for all time” their “natural and cultural resources for all Americans.” As a result of President Biden’s restoration of protections for the Monument, NRDC and our co-plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed our lawsuit challenging Trump’s rollback.

*Conservation Law Foundation v. Biden was originally named Conservation Law Foundation v. Trump.

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