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2018 Legislative Preview: National Monuments

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 8, 2018 -

2018 Legislative Preview: National Monuments
CQ Magazine – Cover Story  

January, 8 2018

As the Trump administration moves to scale back national monuments designated by past presidents under the Antiquities Act, House Republicans are looking for ways to make that mission easier by overhauling the 111-year old statute.

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, a critic of the broad powers the law grants presidents, is pushing legislation to reduce that authority, codify changes the Trump administration wants to make and give Native American tribes and local leaders a bigger voice in the process.

Where It Stands

Bishop, a Utah Republican and a vehement opponent of the Bears Ears National Monument established in his state by former President Barack Obama in 2016, in October introduced a bill that would overhaul the 1906 law and cut back presidential powers to designate monuments.

The measure (HR 3990) would allow the president some flexibility in establishing monuments of up to 640 acres, but prohibit designations less than 50 miles away from another. The bill would require environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act for designations between 640 acres and 10,000 acres.

The measure calls for tougher terms for larger designations, including requiring more stringent environmental reviews and approval for any designation between 10,000 and 85,000 acres from “the elected governing body of each county, the legislature of each state, and the governor of each state” within a proposed monument’s boundaries.

The bill was advanced out of committee on Oct. 11 on a party-line vote and awaits floor consideration.


President Donald Trump has already signed two declarations to remove more than 2 million acres from two Utah national monuments, including the Grand Staircase-Escalante, which was designated by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, and is expected to cut back others as recommended by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. A day after the administration announced those steps, Bishop said he would push two separate bills that would codify the Trump administration’s changes.

One House bill (HR 4532), sponsored by another Utah Republican, John Curtis, would create two different monuments in the place of Bears Ears and give local authorities and Native American tribes a bigger role in their management. The measure would also allow for broader use of the land, including hunting, grazing and motor vehicle access. Curtis told reporters on Dec. 5 that excluding grazing from Bears Ears hurts the local ranching community.

Curtis’ measure would also prohibit mineral development across the original 1.35 million acre of the Bears Ears designation, a move aimed at countering criticism that the Trump administration would open Bears Ears to industry for fossil fuel development.

“We want to change that narrative so it no longer becomes a headline, which is an inaccurate headline,” Bishop says.

Another House measure (HR 4558) introduced by yet another Utah Republican, Chris Stewart, would codify the new boundaries the Trump administration plans to establish for Grand Staircase-Escalante and create a national park within one of three new units created under Trump’s proclamation. The bill would create a “management council” made up of local officials to manage the national park, a plan Stewart says would give “local leaders a powerful voice and seat at the table.”

There are no companion bills in the Senate for any of the three measures, although a representative of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he is “working on relevant public lands legislation.”

Bishop meanwhile plans to move the measures quickly but says he does not expect them to come to the House floor before January.  The Utah lawmakers expect the measures to undergo some changes to better fit with Trump’s proclamations on the future of the national monuments being targeted.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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