The House Natural Resources Committee advanced legislation Wednesday that would limit the power of presidents to designate public land as national monuments.
The National Monument Creation and Protection Act, moved by a 23-17 vote, would overhaul the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president unilateral power to protect structures of “historic and scientific interest.”
“Congress never intended to give one individual the power to unilaterally dictate the manner in which all Americans may enjoy enormous swaths of our nation’s public lands,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the committee chairman who authored the legislation. “Designations are no longer made for scientific reasons or archaeological value but for political purposes. Unfortunately, overreach in recent administrations has brought us to this point and it is Congress’ duty to clarify the law and end the abuse.”
Republicans have been eager to change the monument designation process because they believe former President Barack Obama abused the authority as a way to put hundreds of thousands of acres of public land under federal control and limit its recreational and agricultural use.
While Republicans complained about Obama’s use of the law, many Democrats endorsed the designation and expansion of monuments, and said it provides needed protection to some of the nation’s pristine landscapes, culturally important places and threatened animal and plant habitats.
“The Antiquities Act allows a president who values natural and cultural resources to protect them for future generations, at least until Congress can come along and provide legislative solutions,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the committee’s top Democrat. “Rather than consider those specific legislative solutions, the majority seeks to destroy the Antiquities Act itself. Polling data shows that national monuments are popular overwhelmingly. National monuments are not a problem that we need to solve.”
Bishop’s bill would subject monument…