Tuesday, April 16, 2013

As Communities Cheer New National Monuments, House GOP Attempts To Undercut Law Enabling Their Protection

Leaders from areas near new national monuments designated by President Obama visited Washington, D.C. this week to thank the president. So of course Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on eight bills designed to make it harder in the future for the president to protect special places that local communities have requested be conserved.

In giving the bills a hearing, members of the committee have offered a solution in search of a problem. Community members representing the national monuments that President Obama has designated thus far were at the hearing to show support for the process and the monuments created. As Molly Ward, Mayor of Hampton, Virginia (the location of Fort Monroe National Monument) said on the subject:

The bills up for discussion this morning will have but one result: to prevent other communities from enjoying the same kind of success that our nine communities recently enjoyed.... The Antiquities Act should remain unchanged and ready for the current and future presidents to respond quickly when Congress is unable to proceed quickly.

Nearly one month ago, President Obama used his executive authority to create five new national monuments, a move that was widely supported. But rather than celebrating these successes, certain House members are instead attempting to reprise their role in making the last Congress the most "anti-environmental House of Representatives in the history of Congress." These bills fan the anti-government flames that have recently swept western state legislatures, which are attempting to turn over public lands to the states for private profits.

At issue is the 1906 Antiquities Act, which has been used by 16 out of the last 19 presidents to protect objects and places of "historic or scientific interest" on federal lands and waters. Even President George W. Bush used the act to protect millions of acres of marine areas.

Contrary to claims that monuments are a detriment to local communities, the facts show that they actually provide economic benefits. For example, a study of large monuments in the West by economic research firm Headwaters Economics determined that "the local economies surrounding all 17 of the national monuments grew following the creation of new national monuments."

National monuments and other protected areas like national parks and wilderness also create jobs, as noted by economists. In 2011, over 100 economists asked the president to "create jobs and support businesses by investing in our public lands infrastructure and establishing new protected areas such as parks, wilderness, and monuments."

Last Congress, and this Congress thus far, have been paralyzed when it comes to preserving America's special places. As the Washington Post wrote in an editorial yesterday:

...one can hardly blame the president [for designating new monuments]. Despite bipartisan support for various land conservation proposals, the last Congress was the first since 1966 that failed to set aside any land - any at all.

If members of Congress object to the use of the Antiquities Act to protect special places, they should use their legislative authority to introduce and work to pass bills that do so. Otherwise, as the president told Congress in his State of the Union address: "... if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will."


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