April 16, 2013
Today, the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a legislative hearing
on nine bills to prevent the President from unilaterally designating National Monuments under the century-old Antiquities Act and to ensure greater public participation in the process.
The Antiquities Act was designed to authorize the President to proclaim National Monuments when there was an emergency need to prevent damage or destruction of a specific site or object. But it has instead been used at times to make unilateral land-use decisions, behind closed-doors and without local input, that blocked public access to recreation and other job-creating economic activities.
“We need a formal process to ensure the public has an opportunity to participate in the discussions and decisions surrounding new federal land designations, including national monuments,” said Chairman Rob Bishop (UT-01). “Without legislation, there is no way to ensure the public is included in the process and that future designations are done openly and fairly. There are so many concerns regarding the way the century-old Antiquities Act is used today by Presidents and therefore, it is imperative that we begin to consider improvements to the law that will safeguard the interests and priorities of all Americans. I was particularly concerned by the Department of Interior’s insinuation that the President is above formal public process. This is hardly the case and I find this mentality very troubling, especially since that style of governance has historically failed in other countries.”
The hearing included discussion of Chairman Bishop’s legislation, H.R. 1459 the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation (EPIC) of National Monuments Act, to improve public participation in National Monument decisions by applying the National Environmental Policy Act. It also featured testimony from Members who have introduced legislation to require either state approval or authorization by Congress prior to a national monument designation in their state. Federal legislation currently protects two states, Alaska and Wyoming, from arbitrary designations and the bills would provide similar protection to the people of several other states.
Democratic Commissioner John Jones from Carbon County
, Utah testified about the economic impacts felt after President Clinton unilaterally designated the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in 1996. “Please don’t insult rural communities with the notion that the mere designation of National Monuments and the restrictions on the land which follow are in any way a substitute for long-term wise use of the resources and the solid high wage jobs and economic certainty which those resources provide.” Jones also noted that Chairman Bishop’s bill “ensures public involvement, protects private property, and places some restraints on the President’s Executive Branch power.”
David Eliason, Secretary/Treasurer of the Public Lands Council
stated that “the abuse of presidential National Monument designations under the Antiquities Act of 1906 has taken a heavy toll on multiple uses such as livestock grazing on federal lands. While the law was enacted as a response to concerns over theft from and destruction of archaeological sites, it has been used to put millions of acres essentially off-limits to multiple use.”