As proposed amendments to the 1906 Antiquities Act go, HR1459, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is mild. It would require any presidential declaration of a new national monument to undergo a review under the National Environmental Policy Act.
It is a small step, but a good one. We prefer earlier proposals that would have required a president to seek public input from those affected, as well as from the governor and congressional delegation of the state in which the monument is to be created.
For that matter, why not make the designation of a national monument subject to congressional approval? In a nation that values checks and balances and public input, why should a president be granted such unilateral power?
In 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt used the Act to protect sensitive natural wonders, particularly in the West. But today the Act gives presidents too much temptation to use monuments as political tools.
Utahns are all-too-familiar with the prime example of such abuse. In the middle of his 1996 campaign for re-election, President Bill Clinton called a press conference at the Grand Canyon and solidified his political base by declaring almost 2 million acres of Southern Utah the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The vast new monument included some areas worth preserving, and some not, and it tied up vast underground reserves of coal.
HR1459 passed the House this week, 222-201. It isn’t likely to pass the Senate. That’s unfortunate, because it’s time this outdated declaration of presidential power was tempered.