Resources Committee Passes the National Monument Creation and Protection Act to Modernize the 1906 Antiquities Act

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Washington, October 11, 2017 | comments
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul A. Gosar D.D.S. (AZ-04), Vice-Chairman for Indian Affairs and Oceans Don Young (AK-At Large), Chairman Emeritus Rob Bishop (UT-01), Chairman Emeritus Steve Pearce (NM-02), Chief Infrastructure and Forestry Officer Bruce Westerman (AR-04), Chief Defense and Interior Officer Chris Stewart (UT-02), Western Caucus members Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Aumua Amata Radewagen (AS-At Large), Tom Emmer (MN-06), Paul Cook (CA-08), Doug Lamborn (CO-05) and Tom McClintock (CA-04) released statements after the House Committee on Natural Resources passed H.R. 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act, legislation that modernizes the Antiquities Act of 1906.
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For Immediate Release

Date: October 11, 2017

Contact: Tanner Hanson

– Today, Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul A. Gosar D.D.S. (AZ-04), Vice-Chairman for Indian Affairs and Oceans Don Young (AK-At Large), Chairman Emeritus Rob Bishop (UT-01), Chairman Emeritus Steve Pearce (NM-02), Chief Infrastructure and Forestry Officer Bruce Westerman (AR-04), Chief Defense and Interior Officer Chris Stewart (UT-02),  Western Caucus members Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Aumua Amata Radewagen (AS-At Large), Tom Emmer (MN-06), Paul Cook (CA-08), Doug Lamborn (CO-05) and Tom McClintock (CA-04) released the following statements after the House Committee on Natural Resources passed H.R. 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act, legislation that modernizes the Antiquities Act of 1906:

“Congress never intended to give one individual the power to unilaterally seize enormous swathes of our nation’s public lands… Our problem isn't President Obama or President Trump. It's the underlying law - a statute that provides authority to dictate national monument decisions in secrecy and without public input. The only path to the accountability we all seek – no matter which party controls the White House - is to amend the Act itself,” Congressman Bishop stated. "Under this new, tiered framework, no longer would we have to blindly trust the judgement or fear the whims of any president. The bill ensures a reasonable degree of consultation with local stakeholders and an open public process would be required by law. It strengthens the president’s authority to protect actual antiquities without the threat of disenfranchising people. Ultimately, if enacted, it will strengthen the original intent of the law while also providing much needed accountability.”

“Previous Administrations abused their executive authority by designating overly expansive monuments under the Antiquities Act. In New Mexico, many private and state lands are land-locked by monument designations. In an era with politically driven land grabs and unilateral actions, this bill today will provide transparency and accountability for future Administrations. I believe that ensuring local input in the monument designation process is essential in order to create monuments that work for everyone, not just one political party. I’m happy to support legislation that works to find common ground in such a divided time,” said Congressman Pearce.  

“Our nation’s public resources are best managed when the people that use those lands are intimately involved in the process. Chairman Bishop’s National Monument Creation and Protection Act protects private property rights, prevents unilateral executive overreach and provides local communities a seat at the table all while preserving the ability to declare legitimate monuments. I am grateful for the Chairman’s strong leadership on this issue and am proud to be a cosponsor of this important legislation,” stated Chairman Gosar.

“For too long, we’ve seen the crippling impacts associated with the monument designation process, all with little to no consultation or support of those that live in or rely upon the areas,” said Congressman Don Young. “I welcome today’s legislation and remain committed to reforming the outdated monument designation process – on land and at sea – from a top down executive mandate to a locally driven, bottom-up approach. The days of Presidents unilaterally closing off thousands of acres of land or water must end.”

“Our national parks and monuments are treasures that should be protected. Such protections should not be a unilateral action, but instead should be a collaboration of local, state, and federal oversight to ensure local interests are represented in park and monument designations. That is why the National Monument Creation and Protection Act is such an important piece of legislation and I am proud to co-sponsor this bill. I look forward to its quick passage as we protect our valued national lands and return Article I powers back to Congress,” stated Congressman Westerman.

“The voices of local and state representatives have been ignored for far too long. Today the people’s representatives sent a powerful message that we will no longer tolerate executive overreach and the manipulation of the Antiquities Act for political purposes. I applaud Chairman Bishop and the work of the committee in clarifying congressional intent and ensuring locals have a voice in the process,” said Congressman Stewart.

Congressman LaMalfa
said, “This legislation, offered by Chairman Bishop after much effort, establishes an appropriate precedent for the creation of new National Monuments under the often-abused Antiquities Act. No longer will a President have the authority to suddenly and unilaterally snatch large swaths of land away from public use without local input. Under this much-needed reform, any sizeable area of land to be considered as a national monument would be subject to state and local input, as well as Congressional approval. It restores the original purpose of the Antiquities Act as President Teddy Roosevelt intended by maintaining the ability for a President to designate small areas of land and protect archeologically significant areas in times of emergency. Executive overreach has been a big problem and I fully support this legislation to return this power back to Congress, the people, and local communities.”

“A major marine monument should require clear action by Congress, and not just be a bureaucratic decision,” said Congresswoman Radewagen. “Since designating large national monuments can have unintended consequences to a local economy, such as losses in fishing in American Samoa, Congress must be involved to protect communities from overreach.”

“The 1906 Antiquities Act was implemented to protect historic monuments and landmarks. Unfortunately, many previous Administrations have misused the Antiquities Act by seizing enormous amounts of land and limiting their use without any input from those at the state and local level. I am glad to see the National Monument Creation and Protection Act pass out of committee today so we can ensure that the states and communities impacted by monument designations have a voice in the process,” stated Congressman Emmer.

“The National Monument Creation and Protection Act will empower local communities when new monument designations are being considered. I’ve always opposed Presidential abuse of the Antiquities Act, which often provides minimal opportunity for public input, no funding mechanisms, and leaves us with monuments that lack broad local support. This legislation ensures that our local communities have a real voice and that any new monument proposal undergoes careful review,” said Congressman Cook.

This legislation secures a future for locally supported national monuments, checked executive authority, and empowered local governments. The original intent of the Act is upheld and strengthened with measures that bring us into the twenty-first century. I firmly believe this will provide the accountability we need when it comes to protecting our lands," stated Congressman Lamborn.

“The Constitution gives to Congress alone the jurisdiction over public lands. While the executive should be able to move swiftly to protect small archeological sites from imminent threat of looting or desecration, the decision over whether to set aside vast portions of land in perpetuity should only be made after the lengthy debate, public input and accountability that are the unique attributes of the legislative branch,” concluded Congressman McClintock.


Western Caucus Analysis

Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed H.R. 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act. The bill requires improved transparency and stakeholder input during the monument designation process.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS), “The Antiquities Act of 1906 (54 U.S.C. §§320301-320303) authorizes the President to proclaim national monuments on federal lands that contain ‘historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.’” Under the statutory language of the Act, the President is authorized to reserve ‘the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.’”

Unfortunately, misuse of this outdated 1906 Act has jeopardized the daily activities, livelihoods and traditions of local communities. In numerous instances, grazing rights, water rights, energy development, wildfire prevention and other land management activities have been negatively impacted. Massive declarations have also resulted in restrictive land-use regulations that have limited hunting, fishing, OHV use and other recreational activities.

Compared to early applications of the Antiquities Act – in which the average size of a national monument was 422 acres - it became commonplace for the previous administration to designate monuments that exceeded one million acres in size. In totality, the previous administration designated or expanded 34 national monuments and locked-up more than 550 million acres of total land and water. Regardless of political affiliation, presidents on either side of the aisle should not have the power to create massive new national monuments by executive fiat without local public input.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports, “U.S. land area covers nearly 2.3 billion acres.” The House Committee on Natural Resources reports that previous presidents have used their authority under the Antiquities act 233 times to lock-up 840.4 million acres of land and water. CRS reports that the federal government owns roughly 640 million acres of surface land." CRS also reports, "The federal estate also extends to energy and mineral resources located below ground and offshore. These include about 700 million onshore acres of the federal subsurface mineral estate and about 1.7 billion acres located beyond state coastal waters—referred to as U.S. offshore areas." Many Western communities face severe economic hardships due to the fact that over 90% of all federal land is located in the West.

In Arizona, less than 18 percent of land is privately held and taxable by state and local governments. In fact, there are counties in Chairman Gosar’s district where less than 10% of the county is privately-owned and there are significant challenges to fund basic services like education and transportation. In Garfield County, Utah, 96.7% of the acreage is federal and state land. The county is so strapped for revenues that it has one music teacher for the entire county who travels 200 miles every day.

Courtesy of the House Committee on Natural Resources

H.R. 3990, introduced by Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), “National Monument Creation and Protection Act” restores the original Congressional intent of the Antiquities Act while modernizing the law for the 21st Century. The comprehensive reform legislation includes provisions to protect endangered antiquities, prevent abuse of executive authority and the designation of excessive national monuments, and empower impacted local communities. These reforms thread the needle between balancing the protection of archeological resources with the elimination of egregious Executive overreach.

This bill retains Presidential authority to designate National Monuments up to 640 acres, allowing the President to rapidly protect objects of antiquity in imminent danger, restoring the original intent of the Antiquities Act. New monument designations between 640 acres and 10,000 acres will now require review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) prior to being finalized. Proposed new monument designations between 5,000 and 10,000 acres must be reviewed under an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement.

The bill empowers State and local voices by requiring approval of all county commissions, state legislatures, and governors impacted by a national monument for any designation between 10,000 acres and 85,000 acres. Any monument designation larger than 85,000 acres would require an act of Congress. This bill also creates a new Presidential authority to designate “Emergency National Monuments” for up to one year, to protect areas of any size in times of emergency, as determined by the President. After invoking this authority, the President may never designate any of the effected lands as a future National Monument.

The bill gives much needed clarification to the definition of “Antiquities.” It returns the Antiquities Act to its original intent of protecting specific objects of archeological value such as Native American burial remains or pottery. This will prohibit Marine National Monuments and other sprawling national monuments with no archeological or historic sites in need of protection.

At the beginning of the 20th century, vandals and robbers began looting sacred Native American burial grounds and archeological sites throughout the territories in the Southwest. The destruction of archeological artifacts prompted Congress to enact the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorized the President to designate national monuments on federal lands containing “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, or other objects of historic or scientific interest.”  The law also specified that national monuments “be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected. “Furthermore, the President could only designate national monuments “upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States.

The Antiquities Act granted Presidents the flexibility to quickly protect small Native American sites in imminent danger from looting and destruction.4 President Theodore Roosevelt designated the first National Monument, Devils Tower, in 1906. Since that time, Presidents have broadly interpreted the Antiquities Act to expand both the size and justifications for National Monument designations, despite the 1906 Congressional Record plainly reflecting Congress’ clear intent to limit the size of the designations.

In its 111-year history, Congress amended the Antiquities Act only twice to enact statutory restrictions on the President’s authority to designate National Monuments. The first, passed in 1950, prohibits the designation of National Monuments in the State of Wyoming. The second restriction, passed in 1986, requires prior Congressional approval of executive land withdrawals in the State of Alaska exceeding 5,000 acres. These actions followed the controversial declarations of Jackson Hole National Monument by President Franklin Roosevelt and President Carter’s establishment of several monuments in Alaska, respectively.

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