Conservatives seek to end Obama’s abusive Antiquities Act land-grabs
As President Obama mulls two new national monuments spanning millions of acres in Arizona, a Republican lawmaker wants to head him off at the pass with a bill that would change the law the administration uses to make the declarations.
Rep. Paul Gosar and 28 other Republicans have signed on to the Protecting Local Communities from Executive Overreach Act, which would update the Antiquities Act. Passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act is the legislative vehicle that gives presidents the authorities to declare national monuments.
Obama has used the act to declare 19 new national monuments and enlarge two others, affecting a total of 3.66 million acres.
The battle lines over the federal government’s ownership of vast swaths of western land have been drawn for quite some time. Many lawmakers west of the Mississippi River want the federal government to return some of the land they own to the states, while the federal government and environmentalists maintain that those lands are important for all Americans to own.
Gosar is particularly concerned about a plan between the White House and the Bureau of Land Management to declare 1.7 million acres of the Grand Canyon Watershed and 160,000 acres of the Sedona Verde Valley as national monuments. He said the plans are further evidence of the Obama administration using the Antiquities Act to take land away from western states.
He said the “land grabs” are killing western towns by preventing economic activity on the lands, such as energy production, timber production and mining. It ends up hurting the surrounding areas by limiting the money they can raise for education and infrastructure by limiting the production of natural resources, he said. That starves communities of tax revenue they need to thrive.
“This is crucifying to us in regards to us having to maintain these areas,” he said.
Gosar’s bill would require the federal government to receive written consent from private landowners to add their land to a national monument, ensure the federal government doesn’t spend any more money when new national monuments are declared, prohibit monument declarations in areas with significant local opposition, increase local input and protect water rights for local landowners.
Significantly, the legislation also would limit the amount of land that a new monument can encompass to 5,000 acres. That would bring the Antiquities Act back in line with what it was meant for, Gosar said.
Dan Hartinger, national monuments campaign manager for the Wilderness Society, said Gosar’s bill and other measures that attempt to try to decrease the executive branch’s ability to decide what areas should be national monuments are “solutions in search of a problem.”
He said the provision in Gosar’s bill allowing local counties to veto a monument declaration is inappropriate.
“Allowing a single local body to veto a decision that’s made on behalf of all of us is inappropriate and really contrary to the intent of this time-tested law,” he said.
However, that lack of local say in the process irks many in the West.
Matthew Anderson, policy analyst with the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank in Utah, said declaring huge areas as national monuments can destroy the economies of small towns in the West.
He pointed to the 1996 declaration of the Grand Staircase Escalante Monument in southern Utah. Many local officials were against President Bill Clinton’s decision to declare the area a national monument, but he went ahead anyway.
The limits on activities on that land crippled the economy in Garfield County, and the area has become almost entirely dependent on tourism, he said.
“You can’t ranch, you can’t get mineral resources,” he said.
Anderson said seasonal workers now make up most of the population, and they don’t bring their families. That lack of a permanent population means schools, businesses and local governments all suffer, he said.
While Anderson acknowledges that the federal government takes public comment and input on national monument declarations, it seems like no one is listening, he said.
“A lot of these bureaucrats and others have never been to the places where these monuments are being designated,” he said. “President Obama has never been to the places where he wants to designate monuments. I believe … those who live around the places where these national monuments will be designated are the ones who love the land the most.”
Hartinger says that criticism is off-base. Since 2009, when Obama took office, the Bureau of Land Management — which declined to comment on the bill — has taken hundreds of thousands of public comments on possible national monument declarations. He said the agency hosts well-attended public meetings in the areas affected by the declarations.
“It’s not about locking out the public. It’s about preserving the land for the public,” he said.
Gosar said he hopes Congress will pass the bill before its session ends in January.
Past attempts to reform the Antiquities Act have met bipartisan opposition, but there’s a growing amount of pressure from western lawmakers to assuage concerns about federal land ownership in the West.
As rural towns in the West look for an economic spark, possibly in mining new lands or in oil and gas production, Gosar said pressure on lawmakers to do something will increase. He pointed to a movement in the 1970s and 1980s to reform federal land ownership as a future possibility.
“You cannot continue doing this and keep putting the western states in jeopardy with the [lack of education funding] and the business environment without it coming to a head,” he said. “We had the Sagebrush Rebellion and we could be headed for another one.”
Reposted by Reagangirl.com 4/7/16