Monday, March 1, 2010

Congress Should Limit President's Authority on Monuments -- U.S. Chamber

Congress should act to limit the president's authority to create new national monuments, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said this week.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 currently gives the president authority to declare new national monuments without congressional approval in order to protect threatened cultural and natural resources. But past presidents have repeatedly abused that authority to make sweeping designations that are much larger than those originally intended by the act, the chamber said in a letter Monday to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

"The Act was designed to protect small areas of land and specific items of archaeological, scientific, or historic importance," the chamber wrote. "In fact, it instructs the President to confine any designations 'to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.'"

A confidential document (pdf) leaked last week revealed that the Interior Department had compiled a list of 14 potential sites for new or expanded national monuments the administration could create through the Antiquities Act.

The Antiquities Act already contains provisions limiting presidential authority in Wyoming and Alaska, and those requirements should be made national, the chamber said. Utah representatives, still upset over President Clinton's 1996 decision to create the 1.7-million-acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, introduced legislation that would put similar restrictions in place in their state.

If Congress does not act and the Obama administration does go forward with the listed designations, it should first take public comment, the chamber said.

The leaked document, which Interior officials have downplayed as the result of a preliminary "brainstorming" session, says in its opening paragraph that any designations should follow an assessment of public and congressional support.

Congressional Republicans are calling the document evidence of "secret insider dealings," and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) today thanked the chamber for joining the fray.

"Western states have already suffered this past year from the administration's anti-energy, land-hungry policies, which have locked up sweeping swaths of land and put thousands out of work," Bishop said. "The fact that they would even consider making these designations without public input is disingenuous at best."

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