WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2017 – The House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday cleared a measure to curb the use of the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments on a vote that fell along party lines.
The committee passed the National Monument Creation and Protection Act (H.R. 3990), clearing the bill 23-17. Among other things, Committee Chair Rob Bishop, R-Utah, says the bill would require additional transparency and public input from affected local communities as well as set restrictions on differing sizes of national monument designations.
“Congress never intended to give one individual the power to unilaterally dictate the manner in which all Americans may enjoy enormous swaths of America’s public lands,” Bishop said at the hearing. “Unfortunately, overreach in the recent administrations has brought us to this point and it is Congress’ duty now to clarify the law and end the abuse.”
Use of the Antiquities Act has come under fire for the way it has been used by administrations of both parties. In particular, the designations of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 and the Bears Ears Monument in 2016 have been sources of consternation due to their sheer size (the average acreage of the two designations was more than 1.6 million acres).
Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and the committee’s ranking member, took issue with Bishop’s legislation, as did the rest of the committee’s Democrats. He said the bill would “destroy the Antiquities Act” through a provision prohibiting the designation of objects that are “natural geographic features,” thus limiting designations to man-made objects.
“Given the definition of man-made,” Grijalva said, “it means that Trump Tower qualifies for monument designation, and the Grand Canyon doesn’t.”
Bishop took issue with both examples, saying Trump Tower is private property and the Grand Canyon is a National Park, not a monument.
Grijalva also opposed the acreage limits, which he said “have nothing to do with science or ecology or history or culture.” But Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council, said the bill provides “the kind of structure that’s needed to ensure” protection of deserving monuments without administrative overreach.
“Hearing some of the Democrats … talk about how this really would move to eliminate federal authority to make these designations … yeah, exactly,” he said in an interview with Agri-Pulse. “It doesn’t eliminate the ability for them to do it, but it does require that the federal government is a good neighbor to those areas that are receiving these designations and include them in the process rather than just forcing it into there.”
Environmental groups were quick to voice their opposition to the bill. In a statement, Ani Kame’enui, director of legislation and policy for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the bill is “extreme.”
“If passed, this legislation would be devastating not only to our nation’s history, but also to our local economies,” Kame’enui said. “The legislation includes language that grants the president the authority to reduce the size of our country’s national monuments, all but admitting the administration’s current interest in doing this is unlawful. At least we can agree on that.”
Colin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said if Bishop’s bill is passed, “even existing national monuments could be carved up, paved over or opened to mining and drilling under arbitrary criteria and a process that shuts out the public.”
Bishop said he hasn’t had a conversation with leadership about moving the bill, which was introduced just last week.
The committee also acted on a Resolution of Inquiry pushed by the panel’s Democrats to call for the Trump administration to turn over a report documenting its findings of a review of 27 monument designations. The committee moved to report the resolution unfavorably, which forced the Democrats to vote against their own measure. It was ultimately reported to the full House unfavorably.
Speaking to Agri-Pulse after the hearing, Bishop said the Republicans and Democrats had many similar goals: increase transparency and provide for additional local input in the monument designation process. But where the two parties part ways is in approach, something Bishop claims is detrimental to the other party.
“Democrats would gain a lot if they actually went along with this process in the future,” he said.
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