Climate

Hours After State Of The Union, Senate Targets National Parks

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Just hours after President Obama’s State of the Union address highlighted the effort to protect more public lands and waters than any other administration, the U.S. Senate is poised to vote on a controversial and unpopular proposal that aims to block the protection of new parks, monuments, and historic sites around the country.

Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer’s (R) proposal, which is being offered as an amendment to a bill that would approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, would add additional paperwork and cost to every locally-driven conservation effort that requires federal designation or land purchase by a U.S. agency.

“This amendment’s clear aim is to slow and stop the protection of new parks in the U.S,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “But trying to tie red tape around everything from Civil War battlefields to local trails projects might be one of the most unpopular anti-environmental ideas the new Senate leadership could have possibly started with.”

A public opinion survey of more than 1,000 likely 2016 voters, released last week by the Center for American Progress, found that the idea of stopping the creation of new national parks and monuments is one of the most unpopular ideas that the new Congress is considering, with nearly seven out of ten respondents expressing opposition.

Critics of Senator Fischer’s proposal note that the barriers to new parks that the amendment creates, like requiring the Secretary of the Interior to prove that new designations do not impede other management, would likely be overcome easily, but not without unnecessary paperwork, additional time, and bureaucratic cost to taxpayers. The impacts of the amendment would extend to projects like fishing access points funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the protection of Civil War Battlefields, and the creation of new national wildlife refuges.

The Fischer amendment echoes a proposal introduced by Representative Don Young (R-AK) in the House of Representatives last week that would strip current and future presidents’ authority to designate new national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Both Republican and Democratic presidents have used their authority under the Act to protect public lands and historic sites, including many of the country’s most iconic places such as the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty.

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.