Cliven Bundy may be in jail, but he still has friends in Congress.
The U.S. House of Representatives next week is expected to vote on a proposal that would exempt 48 counties, primarily in the West, from the law that has been used for more than 100 years to protect archaeologically, culturally, and naturally significant resources in the United States, including the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty.
The counties that would be exempted from the Antiquities Act of 1906 cover more than 250,000 square miles — an area nearly the size of Texas. The amendment, which was authored by Rep. Stewart (R-UT) and Rep. Gosar (R-AZ), appears to have two main purposes.
First, it would block the efforts of local communities in Maine, Utah, Arizona, and elsewhere which have been asking President Obama to establish new national monuments in their states.
In southern Utah, for example, the president would not be able to respond to the requests of tribal nations that he protect the Bears Ears area, which is a hotbed of grave robbing, looting, and desecration of sacred sites. It would also prevent the president from protecting Gold Butte in Nevada, where Cliven Bundy illegally grazed his cows for decades, as a national monument.
Though Rep. Gosar argues that the bill prevents local voices from being ignored, in both of the above cases there is strong local support for these national monuments. Seventy-one percent of Utah voters declared their support for a Bears Ears monument and the same percentage of Nevadans support the protection of Gold Butte.
Uranium Mining Is Coming To The Grand Canyon, If Koch-Backed Group Gets Its WayClimate CREDIT: Shutterstock A dark money group backed by Charles and David Koch is behind a well-funded effort to…thinkprogress.orgThe bill would also block a grassroots call to protect the Grand Canyon from uranium mining, the expansion of which would fall in Rep. Gosar’s district. The petition to protect the area has recently reached more than half a million signatures.
Second, the Stewart-Gosar amendment would make a major concession to the demands of scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy and his followers who argue that the U.S. government should have no authority over national public lands in the West. Bundy and his sons Ammon and Ryan were arrested and indicted in February for their involvement in armed standoffs with federal law enforcement officials in Nevada and Oregon.
“Congressman Stewart’s proposal seeks to carve out an area of the country where only some laws apply,” said Jennifer Rokala of the Center for Western Priorities. “By first proposing to strip U.S. land management agencies of their law enforcement powers and now taking away the president’s authority to protect public lands, it seems that some members of Congress are trying to establish a Republic of Cliven Bundy in the West. What a recklessly bad idea.”
New Bill Would Eliminate Law Enforcement On Public Lands, Despite Risks Of Violent ExtremismCREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer Just one month after the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge…thinkprogress.orgIn March, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced legislation, co-sponsored by Reps. Stewart and Gosar, which would abolish the authority of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service to perform law enforcement duties on U.S. public lands. Instead, the bill transfers law enforcement powers to local county sheriffs, fulfilling one of the demands of the Bundy gang and other anti-government extremists who believe sheriffs are constitutionally endowed with more power than the federal government.
This bill is yet another in a series of bills put forth by the 20-member Congressional Anti-Parks caucus in the U.S. Congress, of which both Stewart and Gosar are part. The caucus has been responsible for fanning the flames of the Bundy land seizure agenda, blocking new conservation laws, and introducing legislation aimed at weakening protections of lands that are owned by all Americans.
Matt Lee-Ashley is a Senior Fellow with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. Follow him on Twitter @MLeeAshley. Jenny Rowland is the Research and Advocacy Associate for the Public Lands Project at Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @jennyhrowland.