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.