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Bill to limit national park creation comes up for vote this week

Devil's Tower was among the first national monuments created under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Devil's Tower was among the first national monuments created under the 1906 Antiquities Act.Wikimedia Commons

Update Wed., March 26, 5:35 p.m.: In a 222 to 201 vote, the House passed this legislation today. A similar but not identical bill, The National Monuments Act of 2011 (S. 104), was introduced in the Senate on January 23, 2013, but is still in committee.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) has sponsored a bill to limit the President’s power to create national monuments using the 1906 American Antiquities Act.

H.R. 1459, Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act, was actually introduced in April 2013. Its purpose, according to the text of the bill, is “to ensure that the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 applies to the declaration of national monuments.” A reading of the bill, however, reveals that it’s a call for an amendment to the language of the Antiquities Act.

The bill adds this language to the 1906 act:

No more than one declaration shall be made in a State during any presidential four-year term of office without an express Act of Congress.

In addition, it adds four points to the end of the original act:

A declaration under this section shall—
(1) not include private property without the informed written consent of the owner of the private property affected by the declaration;
(2) be considered a major Federal action under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 ( 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq. ), if it affects more than 5,000 acres;
(3) be categorically excluded under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq. ) and expire three years after the date of the declaration (unless specifically designated as a monument by Federal law), if it affects 5,000 acres or less; and
(4) be followed by a feasibility study that includes an estimate of the costs associated with managing the monument in perpetuity, including any loss of Federal and State revenue, which shall be submitted to the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate and made available on the website of the Department of the Interior not later than one year after the date of the declaration.

While it is unlikely that such a bill would be signed by President Obama, it has raised considerable objection among nearly 90 tourism, cultural heritage, conservation, and national parks groups across the country. The groups sent a joint letter to House leadership on March 25, expressing their disapproval of this attempt to dismantle presidential discretion in preserving lands with national or international significance.

“Since President Teddy Roosevelt, nearly every President–Republican and Democratic—has designated national monuments, including the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty, and Olympic National Park. These are places families vacation, recreate, and reflect on our shared, diverse history,” said Craig Obey, senior vice president for government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Nine of the 14 national park sites that were reopened with state donations during the shutdown due to their economic importance were originally designated as monuments under the Antiquities Act.”

The Antiquities Act, which became law during President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, gives the president the power to designate a national monument when the property and the objects contained there are “of historic or scientific interest.” The act requires the private landowner to relinquish such land to the United States government “for the proper care and management of the object.”

President Obama has used the Antiquities Act to designate nine national monuments during his presidency: Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio, First State National Monument in Delaware, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico, San Juan Island National Monument in Washington, Cesar Chavez National Monument in California, Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia, Fort Ord National Monument in California, and Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado.