Utah Congressman Rob Bishop isn’t happy about Bears Ear National Monument, created by Barack Obama, and he’s still ticked about Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, signed into law by Bill Clinton. Bishop, who’s made a career fighting federal lands ownership and stewardship, is now advancing a bill that would put the brakes on presidential authority to create new national monuments.
That authority is bestowed by Congress under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which has been used by presidents of both parties more than 170 times to protect land and water. Bishop’s bill, H.R. 3990, would force a federal environmental review of any monument larger than 640 acres. As monuments increased in size, the restrictions would get tighter, with state and county approval being required. It would also require the approval of owners of private lands adjacent to new monuments, and the largest allowable monument would be 85,000 acres.
Bishop’s bill would also grant presidents the authority to shrink monuments, power they do not now explicitly have, though Interior secretary Ryan Zinke is encouraging President Donald Trump to do so.
In an opinion in today’s Washington Examiner, Bishop wrote, “There is no more flagrant violation of this principle of our government than the repeated abuse of the Antiquities Act in the designation of national monuments…Between 1906 and 1943, the law functioned basically as designed. Presidents respected the intent of the act. Most monuments were smaller and had clear boundaries with real antiquities inside them. By contrast, designations under the act last year averaged 739,645 acres, or more than 47 times the size of those created 110 years ago…Actions such as these are not the rule of law. It is arbitrary rule by one man.”
The Center for Biological Diversity said H.R. 3990 would effectively invalidate the Antiquities Act. “This legislation is an appalling, unprecedented attack on our national monuments and public lands,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Zion and nearly every national monument created over the past hundred years wouldn’t have been possible under Bishop’s bill. Extreme doesn’t begin to describe how reprehensible his scheme is.
“There’s no public support for this kind of radical legislation. Bishop’s only motivation is greed. He’s offering a gift to the fossil fuel, mining and timber industries and expecting something in return.”
Photo of Navajo National Monument by Ethan Trewhitt