Earlier this week, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) introduced a bill to strip current and future presidents’ authority to designate national monuments, proposing an overhaul to a law that presidents have used for nearly a century to protect some of the country’s most iconic and treasured places.
The bill, introduced Tuesday, would amend the 1906 Antiquities Act to effectively block the President from designating any new national monuments without congressional approval and an extensive environmental review. Additionally, the bill would require the President to seek approval from nearby state governments for marine monument proposals.
“Americans value our National Parks and iconic areas like Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty, but this legislation would attack the century-old law that has helped protect them,” said Alex Taurel, Deputy Legislative Director at the League of Conservation Voters. “By introducing this bill, Rep. Young has proven how out of step with the American people he truly is.”
Sixteen presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, have used the Antiquities Act to permanently protect public lands and historic sites since the Act’s passage in 1906. Some of America’s most beloved and iconic landmarks, like the Grand Tetons and Arches National Park, were originally protected as national monuments under the Act. President Obama recently used the Act for the 13th time in his presidency to protect the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument outside of Los Angeles.
Rep. Young, who has co-sponsored similar legislation in the past, is one of several other members of Congress who are fighting to gut the Antiquities Act and weaken protections on public lands, but who feature national monuments prominently on social media and their websites: the background of Rep. Young’s website currently features a stock photo of Denali National Park and Preserve, a portion of which was originally designated as a national monument by President Carter in 1978.
Attacks on the Antiquities Act from Republican members of Congress are not new. Last March, the House passed legislation to block presidents from establishing national monuments by limiting the number of designations a president can make per term, and creating additional roadblocks to limit executive authority under the Act. More attacks on the Act and attempts to weaken protections for public lands are expected this year as the GOP-controlled Congress works to implement its agenda.
Despite the efforts of Rep. Young and his allies, new polling data shows that 70 percent of American voters strongly support efforts by President Obama to permanently protect some public lands for future generations as national monuments or wildlife refuges, including 76 percent of independent voters. The poll also found that more than two out of three Americans oppose efforts to stop the creation of new national monuments, parks and wilderness areas.
“The new Congress is already moving quickly on an agenda backed by fossil-fuel interests that would weaken protections for clean air and clean water, roll back investments in renewable energy, fast track exports of American oil, and prioritize special interest giveaways on America’s public lands,” said former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, Counselor to the Center for American Progress and President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. “The fossil-fuel agenda of the new Congress is out of step with public opinion and it’s out of step with the priorities of middle-class families who want more renewable energy, cleaner air for their kids, and places that will be set aside for future generations to enjoy.”
Until late last year, Congress had failed to pass any significant land conservation legislation since 2009, and the 113th Congress closed with numerous bills to protect public lands left on the table. President Obama has said that he will continue to “pick up a little bit of the slack” while Congress fails to act, and is expected to designate new national monuments this year.
Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser.