Lawmaker Wants Checks on Presidential Power to Set Aside Public Land

(CN) – A congressional committee will consider a bid to restrict the president’s ability to use the Antiquities Act to set aside vast swaths of public land for conservation purposes.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican and vocal opponent of federal control of public lands, introduced House Resolution 3990 on Friday, which would trigger environmental reviews and congressional approvals if a U.S. president uses the Antiquities Act to set aside more than 640 acres less than 50 miles away from another national monument.

“The 1906 Antiquities Act was originally intended as an executive tool to protect historical and archeological artifacts and structures under threat,” Bishop said in a statement on Monday. “Today the act is too often used as an excuse for presidents to unilaterally lock up vast tracts of land without any mechanism for people to provide input or voice concerns.”

Bishop was highly critical of then-President Barack Obama’s use of the act to set aside Bears Ears National Monument, comprised of about 1.3 million acres of public land, much of which is sacred to Native Americans.

The issue of presidents using the act to set aside lands has not only rankled Republicans and many conservatives in the West, but has also drawn the ire of industries that rely on the resource-rich western United States.

Mining, livestock grazing and oil and gas extraction have all lobbied to prevent presidents from using their authority to set aside vast tracts of land. This has drawn criticism from Democrats who say Republicans’ opposition to the Antiquities Act guised in complaints about process and local disempowerment is more about the ability to allow private industry to plunder public lands for profit.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, is also slated to have his bill – which would request documents from the White House pertaining to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recent review of national monuments – considered by lawmakers.

Zinke reviewed 27 national monuments and his recommendations were recently leaked to the press, revealing the secretary urged President Donald Trump to shrink the boundaries of four national monuments and alter how six others are managed.

The report recommends shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, both in Utah, along with Cascade Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon and Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. The recommendations contain no specifics regarding the boundary alterations, merely saying “the boundary should be revised through the appropriate authority.”

Bishop’s bill would also enshrine the president’s authority to shrink monuments, as some legal analysts have argued the executive branch can set aside monuments but not rescind or reduce them.

The Utah Republican said the bill modernizes the act to clarify its intent, echoing something Zinke said in his report to Trump.

However, Bishop – who said his measure was in part an effort to return autonomy to local communities affected by monument designations – did not mention the overwhelming majority of people who provided public comment during Zinke’s review objected to altering the national monuments.

Zinke dismissed this as attributable to well-organized environmental organizations.

The secretary also recommended changing the management practices at six monuments, including allowing commercial fishing at three marine monuments: Rose Atoll, Pacific Remote Island, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts marine national monuments.

Finally, use-management changes are recommended for three more national monuments – Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande, both in New Mexico. The nature of these changes remains unclear, prompting Grijalva’s bill.

“The Trump administration, urged on by well-funded ideologues and fossil fuel interests, is engaged in an unprecedented effort to destroy our country’s system of public lands,” Grijalva wrote said in a statement last week. “This effort is not about our shared national interest, and if left unchecked it will eventually reach your backyard.”

Bishop’s bill will be considered first by the House Natural Resources Committee.

 

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