Preventing Abuse of the Antiquities Act

September 23, 2016

This past Monday marked the 20th anniversary of President Bill Clinton using the Antiquities Act to create the 1.5 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.

For most Utahns, this date is not a cause for celebration. It’s a source of anger toward what many see as an out-of-touch and overbearing federal government

Infamously, the Clinton administration failed to notify the people of Utah prior to announcing the monument designation – probably because the administration knew that nearly everyone in the state was opposed to the idea.

Utah’s congressional delegation, state and county leaders, and local residents all warned that a national-monument designation would dramatically disrupt the way of life in southern Utah and make it harder for working-class Utahns to earn a living.

Dismissing these concerns, administration officials insisted that an Antiquities Act designation would actually boost the local economy.

But 20 years later, the verdict is in. The people of Utah were right.

The land-use restrictions that accompanied the monument have wiped out many of the stable jobs that previously formed the backbone of the local economy – including ranching, mining, and timber harvesting.

To the limited extent that the national monument has spurred any job creation, it has been confined to the government and seasonal-tourism sectors, which don’t provide the steady work or wages necessary to support a family.

Today, Utah is again facing the threat of another national-monument designation. At the behest of mostly out-of-state environmental activists, President Obama is currently considering creating the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. And just like the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a Bears Ears monument would deprive vulnerable communities of vital economic, recreational, and cultural resources, by unilaterally locking up 1.9 million acres of land.

This Wednesday, Utah Native Americans delivered to the Secretary of the Interior letters, petitions, and resolutions opposing the proposed Bears Ears National Monument.

Their message should be heard loud and clear: enough is enough. The people of Utah are tired of living in fear that the president may at any moment, with the stroke of his pen, upend their way of life.

House Natural Resources Chairman Bishop has spent the past three years working on the Public Lands Initiative, legislation that would further protect the lands President Obama is considering designating. After holding more than a thousand meetings, Chairman Bishop is on the verge of passing a middle-of-the-road lands bill.

Unfortunately, this process is on the verge of being short-circuited by executive fiat. This is why I have introduced S. 3317, which would prohibit the establishment of new national monuments in Utah except by express authorization of Congress. This is not some radical new idea or a special carve out. Since 1950, Wyoming has enjoyed an identical exemption from the Antiquities Act.

My bill would simply put Utah on an equal footing with Wyoming and give the people of Utah some peace of mind about the future of their lands and livelihoods.