President Obama plans to use his executive authority to permanently protect five new national monuments next week. This marks a significant step for the administration: It is now willing to step in and protect special places when Congress refuses to act.
The new monuments will be:
- Rio Grande del Norte, in New Mexico
- San Juan Islands, in Washington
- First State, in Delaware
- Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad, in Maryland
- Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers, in Ohio
Of particular note is Rio Grande del Norte, which at 240,000 acres is the largest monument that the administration has designated thus far. Also, First State National Monument in Delaware will change the fact that the state is the only one in the U.S. without a national park unit.
The announcement of these designations under the 1906 Antiquities Act fits well with President Obama’s challenge to Congress during his State of the Union address: “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.” The last Congress was the first since World War II that failed to protect a single new acre of parks, monuments, or wilderness, despite millions of acres proposed for protection by adjacent communities. As John Podesta, Chair of the Center for American Progress put it, “The last Congress was the most anti-environmental in history, so President Obama is right to respond to the calls of local communities that want their public lands protected.”
The permanent protection of hundreds of thousands of acres is also critical because it is the administration’s next step towards putting the conservation of public lands on equal ground with energy development. In the president’s first term, he leased 6.3 million acres of public lands to oil and gas companies, while only 2.6 million acres were protected by Congress and the executive combined. Last month former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt called on the administration to permanently protect one acre for each one drilled.
Today’s news is welcome for any American who see the economic, health, and other long-term benefits of protected public lands, and is an important advancement for the president in the establishment of his conservation legacy.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.