On Wednesday, though, the House of Representatives will be asked to approve legislation that would greatly dilute that power for future presidents.
Though presidents of both political parties have turned to the Antiquities Act since 1906, when President Theordore Roosevelt used it to set aside Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, some Republicans in the House believe its use denies the public from having a voice in the creation of national monuments.
Not everyone agrees with the need for such legislation, though.
“We don’t need to fix what isn’t broken. Elected officials proposing changes to the Antiquities Act clearly don’t understand the careful balancing act that it maintains within our federal government, between the legislative and executive powers," said Maureen Finnerty, a former superintendent of Everglades National Park and now chair of Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
"The President of the United States must retain the authority to take swift action to protect significant, historic, and scenic objects on federal lands, while Congress should retain its power to declare monuments, redesignate Presidentially-established national monuments, and determine the resources for management and maintenance of national monuments," she added in a release. "Any attempt to change the Antiquities Act really borders on insanity. This bill, if enacted, will inevitably result in nationally significant public lands and irreplaceable American artifacts going unprotected.”
The measure, crafted by Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, would:
* Classify National Monument declarations under the Antiquities Act as a major federal action, which would require the application of NEPA;
* Allow for a temporary “emergency” designation (5,000 acres or less for a three-year period) by the president if there is an imminent threat to an American antiquity. After three years, the designation would only become permanent if the NEPA process is completed or it is approved by Congress;
* Limit National Monument declarations to no more than one per state during any four-year presidential term in office, unless otherwise approved by Congress;
* Prevent the inclusion of private property in monument declarations without the prior approval and written consent of property owners; and
* Require within one year of a declaration, a feasibility study and an estimated cost to taxpayers associated with managing the monument in perpetuity, including any loss of federal and state revenue.
Joining the NPS retirees in opposing the legislation was a group of nearly 90 organizations that today sent a letter to Congress asking that the measure be rejected.
“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.”
Under a provision of the bill, the president could not have used the Antiquities Act to establish Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, as the bill limits the number of monument designations made in a state during a Presidential term; the BLM-Managed Fort Ord National Monument was designated before the Chavez monument was.
“The Chavez family, the Cesar Chavez Foundation and the farm worker movement are deeply concerned over legislation to limit the President’s ability to create new national monuments,” said Paul Chavez, president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation.
“In October of 2012, President Obama proclaimed before 7,000 people the National Chavez Center at La Paz in Keene, California as the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. Now the story of my father, Cesar Chavez, and the contributions of thousands of Latinos, immigrants and others who joined La Causa over the decades is being shared with all of America through the National Park Service," he added.
“Any proposal to prohibit or restrict the president’s authority to bestow the honor of a new national park site to commemorate important American figures and movements that strengthened our democracy should be opposed.”
Of course, if the House does pass the measure, its prospects in the Senate are not the best, and President Obama likely would veto the bill. However, the votes could shed light on how the next Congress might react to it, especially if the November elections swing the balance of power in the Senate or House.