Reader Participation Day: Should Congress Restrict The President's Ability To Use The Antiquities Act To Create National Monuments?
As reported in yesterday's Traveler, a vote may be taken as early as today on a bill that would greatly restrict the power of U. S. Presidents to create new National Monuments via the Antiquities Act of 1906. Does that Act as originally written still serve a useful purpose, or are changes now called for?
Since its passage just over a century ago, the Antiquities Act has been used by sixteen U. S. Presidents—eight Republicans and eight Democrats—to declare into being 135 national monuments. Those areas include the still extant Statue of Liberty and Rainbow Bridge National Monuments as well as sites that Congress later expanded to become Petrified Forest, Great Sand Dunes and Death Valley National Parks.
The bill expected to come to a vote this week is "The Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation (EPIC) of National Monuments Act" (H.R. 1459) and is the latest in a series of efforts by some in Congress to limit the President's authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906.
Supporters, led by Utah Republican Rob Bishop, say, "Since its establishment 108 years ago, the Antiquities Act has at times been misused for political purposes by presidents on both sides of the political spectrum. In most circumstances of abuse, large-scale designation are intended to limit specific uses, activities, and access to vast areas of America’s public lands. This has hindered viable uses of land that benefit local communities and support industries and livelihoods, including education, energy production, farming, ranching, mining, and recreation."
Opponents of the bill, including the National Parks and Conservation Association, note that "For over one hundred years the Antiquities Act has been used as a bi-partisan conservation tool. With the exception of the Organic Act of 1916, no law has had more influence over the development of the modern National Park System and our other public lands than the Antiquities Act.... The Act allows the President to reserve or withdraw federal lands ...to prevent their damage from commercial and other development. A president’s ... proclamation of a national monument immediately protects the special qualities of public lands from potential harm, e.g. commercial development [and] looting..."
Those groups point out that Congress still has considerable authority over newly designated National Monuments, since the Act "does not automatically authorize management plans, programs, and funds for designated monuments. Such authority depends upon congressional action, as does any re-designation of a monument as a national park."
You can read the supporter's summary of the current bill at this link, and the NPCA's Fact Sheet on the legislation here.
So, what do you think? Is the current attempt to restrict the President's ability to use the Antiquities Act good public policy? If the bill passes the House, but fails to secure approval by the Senate and the President, does it set the tone for the next session of Congress in terms of potential future additions to the National Park System?