House Republicans push bill to reform, limit use of Antiquities Act

In this 2016 file photo, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, speaks in Salt Lake City. House Republicans are moving to restrict the president’s ability to protect millions of acres of federal land considered historic, geographically significant or culturally important. Bishop said presidents of both parties have misused the 1906 Antiquities Act to create oversized monuments that hinder energy development, grazing and other uses. Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced a bill that would prevent presidents from designating monuments larger than 85,000 acres and grant veto power to states and local officials for monuments larger than 10,000 acres. The GOP-controlled resources panel approved the bill on Oct. 11, 2017, 23-17, sending it to the House floor. Photo taken in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 23, 2016 | AP photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

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.”

FILE – In this June 22, 2016, file photo, the “House on Fire” ruins in Mule Canyon, near Blanding, Utah, in Bears Ears National Monument. Western Democrats are pressuring President Donald Trump not to rescind land protections put in place by former President Barack Obama, including those for Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument. | AP photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

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.

FILE – This May 23, 2016, file photo, shows the northernmost boundary of the proposed Bears Ears region, along the Colorado River, in southeastern Utah. Western Democrats are pressuring President Donald Trump not to rescind land protections put in place by former President Barack Obama, including Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument. Obama infuriated Utah Republicans when he created the monument on 1.3 million acres of land that is sacred to Native Americans. | Photo by Francisco Kjolseth, of The Salt Lake Tribune, via AP, St. George News

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.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

 

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6 Comments

  • Ali October 12, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Is this something we really need right now? Don’t these people have more important priorities? If their argument is that it will provide us with more jobs thru development, thats a bunk of you know what. If developers want to build, start with the areas within cities that are vacant or blighted. We don’t need development in areas that are so beautiful. You can’t build that kind of beauty.

    • Real Life October 13, 2017 at 10:49 am

      Agreed. With an emphasiss on greed. Once it’s gone, you don’t get it back.

      • .... October 13, 2017 at 10:30 pm

        Well you may not get it back. but that’s just you

  • bikeandfish October 12, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    The writing has been on the wall for a while. Putting a cap on what can be designated via the Antiquities Act seems fair though the current recommendation is way too low.

  • Proud Rebel October 13, 2017 at 7:56 am

    I believe that this proposed law is the direct result of way too much overreach by the past administrations. It’s just the natural swing of the pendulum. Further, I’m in agreement with it. While I believe that some things need to be protected from abject rape by the energy interests, I also believe there needs to be some control of the galloping environmental group that would have every square inch of this country “protected” and under their control, direct or indirect.
    When you have any group that goes past the point of common sense, then some limits have to be placed to keep them from overreaching. Whether it is big business, big government, or big environmental entities.

  • hayduke1 October 14, 2017 at 10:04 am

    The Antiquities Act was meant to preserve and protect native historical sites. This, will still stand with Bears Ears, even if its size is greatly reduced. In fact, these sites in San Juan County were already preserved, prior to Bears Ears becoming a National Monument. Grand Gulch, where the majority of artifacts lie within the Bears Ears Monument, was already protected – as Grand Gulch Primitive Area (and, managed by the BLM). I’ve never believed that this area was in danger of being trashed and exploited. And after the size is reduced, this area will still remain pristine. Perhaps, if you’re going to speak about Bears Ears, you should go there first. My fear is that Bears Ears could become another Zion National Park. Tourism is what will be the downfall of this area. If you build it, they will come. I love this area of Utah, and hope that little recognition is given to it. Let it bake in the harsh sun, and may tourists stay away.

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