The first round of a new fight over White House power to unilaterally impose new protections on large tracts of western lands went to the Obama administration.
The Senate on Thursday rejected, 38-58, Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) bid to block White House authority to designate national monuments in western states.
DeMint wanted to attach the amendment to legislation approved yesterday aimed at bolstering tourism in the U.S.
The issue flared this month with the leak of an internal Interior Department document that lists 14 potential national monuments in nine states.
Interior Department officials called the document a very preliminary draft, and said that no decisions have been made about what areas – if any – might merit further review.
But the document has nonetheless enraged western Republicans, who fear a “land grab” that would prevent oil-and-gas drilling and many other activities.
Utah Republicans have introduced bills that would prevent designations in that state without Capitol Hill approval. And Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) plans to introduce a bill next week that do the same thing for her state, an aide said today.
On Friday, 16 House Republicans led by Reps. Rob Bishop (Utah) and Doc Hastings (Wash.) wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar seeking a host of other documents related to Interior’s consideration of new monuments.
The letter says there are unanswered questions about the status of potential designations, what groups or people are involved in the review, and the extent to which consideration will continue “behind closed doors.”
“Western communities and residents that stand to be affected by these proposed monument designations have the right to know what the Administration is planning with regards to the future of millions of acres of both public and private lands throughout the West,” Bishop said in a prepared statement Friday.
“Despite the DOI’s statements that the initial documents are simply ‘drafts,’ the American people deserve to know the full extent of the planning as well as the involvement of all outside parties,” he added.
Bishop chairs the Congressional Western Caucus, and Hastings is the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee.
An Interior Department spokeswoman said last week that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar “believes new designations and conservation initiatives work best when they build on local efforts to better manage places that are important to nearby communities.”