Publication / DecodeDC/ Scripps
June 17, 2014
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Obama continues use of executive orders with latest marine water protection proposal

President is going-it-alone on policy agenda push

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Obama announced a new executive order to expand protected marine waters Tuesday, making it the second executive order this week.

Following Monday’s announcement that the White House is making it illegal for government contractors to discriminate based on sexual preference, Obama introduced Tuesday a proposal that could create the largest sanctuary for marine life in the world and double the area of ocean that is protected globally.

Under the proposal, a large expanse of the central Pacific Ocean will become a protected national monument and off limits to fishing. According to two analyses obtained by the Washington Post, The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument would be expanded from 87,000 square miles to about 782,000 square miles.

If all goes according to plan, the proposal will go into effect later this year.

This most recent order, filed without the help or advice of Congress, is further proof that the President is following through on the promises he made in this year’s State of the Union Address.  Obama vowed that he would step-up his use of executive authority in his remaining two years as president and that he would no longer wait for Congress to move ahead on his agenda.

Tuesday’s announcement is Obama’s first executive order that places protections on marine waters. It will be added to the list of 11 other executive orders he enacted since his presidency began that protect areas of land.

On Monday, the president issued an order requiring all companies who contract with the federal government to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, Obama has also signed separate executive orders creating new overtime protections for many salaried workers and requiring federal contractors to pay their employees a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, up from $7.25 an hour, on new contracts starting in 2015.

But not everyone is happy with Obama’s new policy push. His more pronounced use of executive authority is to the chagrin of many Republican members who believe circumventing their institution is borderline unconstitutional.

In an interview with the Post, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash, called Obama’s actions “another example of this imperial presidency.”

But Obama isn’t the first president to utilize executive orders to implement policy. In fact his numbers aren’t even close to the highest. Executive orders are common, regardless of the president’s party, and almost every president has used them.

Graphic: Elizabeth Scheltens, Scripps News

President Bill Clinton, for example, signed 364 executive orders–200 in his first term and 164 in his second–according to data from the American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara. George W. Bush signed 173 in his first term and 118 in his second.

The number of executive orders by modern presidents is nothing compared to U.S. presidents from the early to mid 20th Century. President Woodrow Wilson signed more than 1,800 during his tenure, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed 3,522.

In comparison, Obama has so far signed 181 orders as of June 14, according to data from the National Archives and the White House.

Although Obama’s most recent order may draw the ire of sport fishing enthusiasts and commercial fisherman, his actions aren’t the first to establish protected water regions around the U.S.

George W Bush holds the record for creating the most protected marine areas. He declared four during his second term in 2009, including the one that Obama will expand under his new order.

Obama still has a year and half left to raise his order total, and he likely will as his second term winds down. But if he wants to compete with some of the greats before him, he has a long way to go.