ST. GEORGE – In a move to restrict the application of the Antiquities Act by the president, House Republicans are pushing legislation that would limit the president’s ability to create national monuments and give states the power to veto monuments over a certain size.
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said both Democrat and Republican presidents have abused the Antiquities Act. The “National Monument Creation and Protection Act,” which was approved by the committee Wednesday, would amend the Antiquities Act to curtail the alleged abuse of its application.
That abuse, Bishop and others claim, has allowed the creation of massive monuments with little-to-no concern for the local communities their designation may negatively affect as they are cut off from land that could be used for economic development, grazing and other purposes.
“No longer would we have to blindly trust the judgment or fear the whims of any president,” Bishop said in a statement Wednesday. “The bill ensures a reasonable degree of consultation with local stakeholders and an open public process would be required by law.”
If enacted, Bishop said, the bill would “strengthen the original intent of the (Antiquities Act) while also providing much needed accountability.”
Under the National Monument Creation and Protection Act, proposed national monuments between 10,000 and 85,000 acres in size would require the approval of “all county commissions, state legislatures and governors impacted by a national monument.”
Approval of proposed monuments above 85,000 acres would require an act of Congress.
The president can still make emergency designations to grant an area immediate protection. However, the designation would be set to expire in a year’s time unless extended by Congress.
Smaller monuments would be subject to review under the National Environmental Protection Act and environmental assessment and impact studies.
“We are not taking away the ability of the president to use the Antiquities Act in the future,” Bishop said during a Wednesday teleconference on his bill, according to KSL.com. “We are establishing how it should be used.”
The bill passed the GOP-controlled House Natural Resources Committee by a 23-17 vote. It now goes to the House floor.
“Today, the people’s representatives sent a powerful message that we will no longer tolerate executive overreach and the manipulation of the Antiquities Act for political purpose,” Rep. Chris Stewart said in a statement Wednesday.
Though not a Natural Resources Committee member he is a part of the Western Caucus alongside Bishop and others.
“I applaud Chairman Bishop and the work of the committee in clarifying congressional intent and ensuring locals have a voice in the process,” he said.
The bill’s creation comes in the wake of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendation to shrink a handful of large monuments, including Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, which are 1.3 million and 1.9 million acres, respectively.
Other monuments recommended by Zinke for reduction include Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou.
While House Republicans lauded the bill, House Democrats had a differing opinion.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, of Arizona, senior Democrat on the resources panel, called Bishop’s bill a tacit admission by the GOP that President Donald Trump does not have legal authority to reduce or abolish existing national monuments.
Grijalva charged that the bill was “thrown together at the last minute with only one special interest group in mind: the oil and gas industry.”
Environmental advocacy groups are also displeased.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance called the legislation “a disgraceful bill that would essentially gut the Antiquities Act.”
SUWA added that the bill “is a disaster,” but also noted that “just because it passed out of the committee doesn’t mean it will become law.”
“This legislation is an appalling, unprecedented attack on our national monuments and public lands,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Zion and nearly every national monument created over the past hundred years wouldn’t have been possible under Bishop’s bill. Extreme doesn’t begin to describe how reprehensible his scheme is.”
The Center for Biological Diversity also said that, under Bishop’s bill, monuments would no longer be designated to protect scientific and natural wonders, but “only ‘objects of antiquity’ such as relics, cultural artifacts and fossils.”
Enacted in 1906, the original language of the Antiquities Act states the president of the United States can create national monuments on federal land that contain “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”
A goal of the law was to protect areas of archaeological significance from vandalism and looting. The act has since been used to cover areas deemed to be environmentally sensitive and in need of added federal protections.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
- The Antiquities Act of 1906 – Text courtesy of the National Park Service
- HR 3990: The National Monument Creation and Protection Act – Oct. 6 draft
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