WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and his successors would see their ability to designate new national monuments limited under a bill approved Wednesday by the House.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, takes aim at the 1906 Antiquities Act, a law Obama and other presidents have used to protect historic or ecologically significant sites.
The bill would require an environmental review — including public comments — before a president could designate monuments larger than 5,000 acres. Presidents would be limited to one monument per state for each four-year term
Bishop and other Republicans have complained that Obama has designated a half-dozen monuments in the past year without input from Congress, including a significant expansion of a national monument along the Pacific Ocean in California this month. The March 11 action permanently protects about 1,665 acres of federal lands near Point Arena, 130 miles north of San Francisco.
The House approved the bill, 222-201. Three Democrats joined 219 Republicans in favor of the bill. Ten Republicans opposed it, along with 191 Democrats.
The Obama administration opposes the legislation, which is unlikely to come up for a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources public lands subcommittee, said national monuments created by Congress are required to go through a process that includes an environmental review and public comments.
"It's common sense that the public should be involved regardless of whether Congress or the president initiates the designation," Bishop said, calling the vote in favor of the bill "a win for the American people."
Opponents said the bill was unnecessary, noting that presidents from both parties have used the 1906 law to create national monuments, including the Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and Statue of Liberty. Many monuments were later converted into national parks.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said Republicans have turned their backs on the conservation legacy of President Theodore Roosevelt, who designated the first national monument, Devils Tower in Wyoming, in 1906.
"This Republican majority is genuinely, openly hostile to conservation designation," DeFazio said.
Bill Dvorak, a public lands organizer for the National Wildlife Federation, called the bill "wrong-headed" and said it "should worry everyone who cares about our public lands and sustaining healthy populations of fish and wildlife."
If the bill becomes law, places such as Colorado's Browns Canyon could be left open to development and would be unlikely to become a national monument, despite overwhelming public support, Dvorak said.
Bishop said his concerns about presidential abuse of monument designations dates to 1996, when President Bill Clinton designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.
Bishop called that "one of the most historic assaults on Utah's energy resources in the history of the state," noting that the action "locked up the nation's largest proven coal deposit."
DeFazio called Clinton's action ancient history and said nothing is stopping Bishop or any other lawmaker from proposing legislation to repeal the monument designation.
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