EDITORIAL: Utah congressman pushed bill to reform the Antiquities Act

Rep. Bishop’s legislation is nothing more than a modest check on a power bestowed upon the executive branch by Congress

President Donald Trump has yet to act on the recommendations offered by his interior secretary regarding modification to a handful of new national monuments, including Nevada’s Gold Butte.

But a Utah congressman is wasting little time moving forward with a proposal to reform the law that presidents have used for more than a century to unilaterally make such declarations.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, would curtail the power of presidents to declare national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Under Rep. Bishop’s proposal, any monument that exceeded 640 acres would first have to undergo an environmental review process. Monuments larger than 10,000 acres would require approval from state and local governments affected by the land use restrictions.

The measure passed Rep. Bishop’s committee on Wednesday.

“Today, the act is too often used as an excuse for presidents to unilaterally lock up vast tracts of public land without any mechanism for people to provide input or voice concerns,” he said in a statement. “This is wrong.”

Radical environmentalists immediately went into Chicken Little mode, accusing the congressman of trying to destroy the country’s natural resources and of attacking its national parks.

“The Trump administration, urged on by well-funded ideologues and fossil fuel interests, is engaged in an unprecedented effort to destroy our country’s system of public lands,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., wrote in an op-ed in The Hill last week. “This effort is not about our shared national interest, and if left unchecked it will eventually reach your backyard.”

Pay the Rep. Grijalvas of the world no heed. Public lands under attack? Tell that to the people of rural Nevada, a state in which the federal government runs herd over 85 percent of the territory, a number that has remained relatively constant for decades.

Despite the hysterics, Rep. Bishop’s legislation is nothing more than a modest check on a power bestowed upon the executive branch by Congress in the first place.

In addition, it is long overdue that local interests have a seat at the table for these decisions. In Nevada, the rich and well-organized green groups that supported President Barack Obama’s Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monument designations constantly argue that the vast majority of Silver Staters embrace federal protection for these sites. Why, then, do they fear allowing state and local governments to weigh in?

Rep. Bishop’s measure would inject a modicum of accountability into the process, ensuring that such decisions are properly vetted and that the land use restrictions are applied only to areas on which a consensus exists regarding monument status. That makes good sense.

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