House Of Representatives Votes To Gut Antiquities Act

In a narrow vote described as a marker for perhaps "the single darkest day" for the National Park System, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a measure that would gut the Antiquities Act that numerous presidents have used to set aside lands for the good of the country.

With a vote of 222-201, the House passed H.R. 1459, which would overhaul the authority presidents have to set aside national monuments. Three Democrats voted along with 219 Republicans; ten Republicans sided with the other 191 Democrats in opposition to the bill.

"Since President Teddy Roosevelt pushed for the passage of the Antiquities Act, it has been used on a bipartisan basis by 16 presidents (eight Republicans and eight Democrats) to protect America's most iconic natural, cultural, and historic places: the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty, Acadia, Zion, Grand Teton, and Olympic National Parks," the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees said in decrying the vote. "Half of our national parks were originally protected using the Antiquities Act.

Maureen Finnerty, the former superintendent of Everglades and Olympic national parks, said the vote "is a tragic development. Now, our national parks and monuments are being treated as a political football that is being kicked around, for the sake of nothing more than crass political posturing."

Added Craig Obey, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association: "The National Parks Conservation Association strongly condemns the shortsighted display by the House of Representatives today in passing H.R. 1459, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act or ‘EPIC’.

"In short, this bill spells an ‘epic’ repudiation of the conservation values associated with President Theodore Roosevelt and cherished and appreciated by Americans ever since. Virtually every president for more than a century has had the authority to designate national monuments, and three out of four monuments designated during that time are part of today’s National Park System.”

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.

"Proposed changes to the Antiquities Act are baseless, unwarranted and contrived strictly for political gain," said Ms. Finnerty in a release. "The lawmakers in Washington who voted for this bill need to re-study American History 101 because many holding the reins of power have forgotten why our ancestors gave the White House powers to protect public lands.

"...At no point over the past century have landmark laws established to protect the special historical places we cherish been more vulnerable to attack from inside our own government," she added. "H.R. 1459 changes the ground rules for how the federal government will designate protected lands. The goal of bill sponsors is to have not more but less protection, less attention to places that are nationally significant resources and should be national monuments."

To see how your representative vote, go to this page, scroll down to the entry for 4:57:48 P.M, and click on "Roll no 147."

Whether the Senate will take up the measure remains to be seen.

Comments

The actions of the current administration re: National Parks during the government shutdown pretty much ensured that "national parks and monuments are being treated as a political football" and will continue to be. Never again will I believe the BS line that these are "my" national parks when a government shutdown results in large scale security to keep me out. Presidents have been claiming more and more power for themselves for years and it's time for it to stop. Also, I frequently hear and read that many National parks need money to meet what are considered essential maintenance items? Seems absurd to add more when we can't afford to maintain what we have. Lastly, taking private property from someone against their will is theft. Paying them what the buyer says it's worth when the owner disagrees is still theft. I haven't read the bill other than what is excerpted above, but those points make a lot of sense to me, especially, given our financial situation, "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."
Thankfully, it's DOA in the Senate.

MarkK -

Land acquired for any NPS area from private landowners can sometimes be a very emotional topic, but such land cannot be taken without fair compensation. If the owner disarees about what's fair, he has the right to have that value determined in court, not by the buyer. Will sellers of land included in a park sometimes not want to sell, or disagree with the eventual price? Yes. You may choose to classify that as "theft." I'm not aware of any land acquired from reluctant sellers that wasn't first authorized by congressional action - not a Presidential declaration.

Unless there is some pressing circumstance, such as a piece of land being absolutely essential for park operations or land which is threatened by development or other activities that would reduce or destroy its value to a park, the NPS approach is to wait for a willing seller rather than get into condemnation proceedings.

As to land included in new national monuments designated under the law in question (the Antiquities Act), I posted the following information on a separate thread, but since your comment is posted here, it seems to bear repeating.

Land included in a new national monument established under the Antiquities Act must either already be in federal ownership (which covers the vast majority of designations) or transfered with the consent of the owner. In all cases that I'm aware of, this has been by donation, or as Kurt explains above, acquired from a non-profit group that is holding it in trust until the monument is established.

Private land cannot be forcibly "taken" from private landowners to create a new monument under this Act. Here's the pertinent language from Act.(Emphasis added below is mine.)

The monument can include landmarks, structures or ojbects "that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States...When such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bona fide unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States.

I believe you'll find from a legal standpoint, the word "may" above indicates that the transfer of ownership is optional.

What a great idea by Rep. Bishop! NPS has a $5MM maintenance backlog on the lands they currently manage. Do they really need more lands, buildings, rivers, lakes cemeteries, etal that they cannot maintains, staff or otherwise manage with a declining budget? Or do we allow the supplementing of NPS budgets by special interests.......like Coca Cola in the Dasani bottled water wars in Grand Canyon? Toyota donations for special consideration along with many others? Maybe Bill Gates or Warren Buffett would like to have a treehouse built in Sequioa NP as an observation point to view the canopy of these majestic beauties. How much money would NPS require to make it happen? NPS is fleecing the off road permit money at Cape Hatteras to fund normal infrastructure needs because of budget cuts. Maybe some large corporate sponsor will step in and help NPS close the beach access to all Americans under the guise of helping NPS
This was a RESOLUTION and not a BILL. Doesn't that mean it will not and cannot become a law? It won't even be sent to the Senate, will it? Isn't this just more political puffery by our Congressional blowhards as they try to convince their more radical supporters to vote for them in November? I hope I'm right in this . . . but we'll still need to be very wary and work hard to keep the Rethuglican party from gaining even more power in the coming election.
Here's a link to an editorial in today's Salt Lake Tribune: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/57734408-82/national-monument-act-antiquities.html.csp
Well stated Jim Burnett. Think about it - what other nation in the WORLD has taken such steps for so many years to protect public spaces from commercial development, exploitation, and degradation? The Antiquities Act has not been used to penalize individual landowners, but rather in a fair manner to preserve and conserve large, unique, special, and critical land and water areas for future generations. I see no models in our historical or contemporary free-enterprise system (i.e. unfettered capitalism) that provides such a forward thinking service to future generations of citizens and others.