House passes monument designation revision

Bill would require local input before president designates national monument

By Andrew Clevenger / The Bulletin / @andclev

Published Mar 27, 2014 at 12:01AM

Bill in Congress — The Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act, HR 1459.

Sponsor: Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah

History: Introduced April 10, 2013. Passed by the House of Representatives Wednesday.

What’s next: The bill now goes to the Senate.

Online: Read the bill at http://1.usa.gov/1g2xqT7

WASHINGTON — The House voted Wednesday to strip presidents of the authority to unilaterally designate national monuments, a power more than a dozen commanders-in-chief have wielded since Teddy Roosevelt was in office.

The House approved the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act, which requires presidents to consult with local stakeholders before designating a new national monument, by a 222-201 margin, with a handful of Democrats joining the Republican majority.

The bill amends the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that has allowed presidents to protect 137 sites across the country, including the Grand Canyon, the Oregon Caves and the Statue of Liberty. The only presidents who did not designate a national monument are Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has designated 10 sites. His predecessor, George W. Bush, designated five, four of which were in marine areas totaling more than 210 million acres.

The bill would apply the National Environmental Policy Act to any national monument designation over 5,000 acres, meaning it would require an environmental study before any authorization could occur. Designations under 5,000 acres would remain in effect for only three years unless Congress voted to make the designation permanent. It would also limit the designations to one per state for every four-year presidential term.

The bill also would block the designation of private land without the owner’s permission.

After the vote, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, praised the bill, noting that he has opposed unilateral designations in his Oregon district under both Presidents Clinton and Obama.

“Land use decisions should be made in the sunshine with full input from affected citizens like farmers and ranchers. The president shouldn’t be able to lock up thousands of acres of federal land to all productive uses with just the stroke of his pen and no say from the American people,” Walden said in a prepared statement. “This common-sense bill would ensure that future national monuments are created with public participation, not behind closed doors at the White House.”

Speaking on the House floor before the passage vote, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said presidents of both parties have abused the ability to designate national monuments to score political points.

“President Obama has not been shy about his willingness or desire to circumvent Congress and take unilateral action on a variety of issues. This lack of shyness includes the designation of new national monuments,” Hastings said. “However, this authority was intended to be used under narrow circumstances and in emergencies to prevent destruction of a precious place.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, the Natural Resources Committee’s ranking member, said Republicans have turned their back on Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation legacy. During the past two Congresses, members of the House have introduced 89 conservation bills, and only four have become law, he said.

“This Republican majority is genuinely openly hostile to conservation designations, and yet today they’re pretending that they actually really care about these iconic places and they’re just making a couple of little changes to the law to include more public input,” DeFazio said.

Since 1906, three sites in Oregon have been designated as national monuments: Oregon Caves by President Taft, Cascade-Siskiyou by President Clinton, and John Day Fossil Butte by an act of Congress during the Ford administration.

— Reporter: 202-662-7456, aclevenger@bendbulletin.com