Obama Designates New National Monuments

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President Obama on Friday designated three new national monuments in California, Texas, and Nevada as part of his agenda on land conservation. But the action did not come without strong objections from Republicans.

Environmental activists applauded the president’s move, which was announced early Friday morning by the White House. Republicans in Congress lamented Obama’s use of executive actions without first seeking congressional approval, casting the decision as a power grab in light of a restrictive amendment that was approved earlier this week.

“One of the great legacies of this incredible country … is our national parks and national monuments,” Obama said Friday afternoon in the Oval Office before officially signing off on the declarations. “It is something that we pass on from generation to generation." 

The White House said Obama is using his authority under the Antiquities Act, which became law in 1906, to establish monuments at Berryessa Snow Mountain in California, Waco Mammoth in Texas, and Basin and Range in Nevada.

In a fact sheet, the White House said the establishment of the new monuments is part of the administration’s “commitment to protect our country’s significant outdoor spaces for the benefit of future generations.”

Many also view it as a legacy issue for the president, who after Friday will have formed or expanded 19 national monuments since he took office in 2009. The new designations, the White House said, will bring economic growth to the local communities by creating jobs to provide for increased tourism and recreation. Obama’s fellow Democrats commended him.

“President Obama will be remembered for many accomplishments, but I am confident this action today will be a defining legacy for him,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who hails from Nevada, said in a statement. He called the designation to safeguard Basin and Range, a 700,000-acre desert, “historic.”

“There are vast landscapes and historic treasures from Idaho to California to Oregon that have languished in Congress,” Reid added, urging Obama to continue using the Antiquities Act to circumvent GOP opposition in Congress.

Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee for president in 2016, tweeted her support for the action Friday morning: “Thanks to @POTUS, America the beautiful will stay beautiful.”

But GOP disagreement remains strident, with one Republican arguing that the Antiquities Act has been used as a “political weapon” against Americans’ land rights. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, said in a statement that Obama’s “unilateral” monument designations represent a “shameful power move.”

“President Obama has shown complete disdain for Congress and the people of Nevada, California, and Texas,” Bishop said, vowing that his committee will take action. “This surreptitious land grab reveals that the Obama Administration will stop at nothing to lock up more and more land, with the stroke of a pen.”

The House of Representatives this week approved an amendment to a Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency spending bill; the amendment was brought forth by Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.) to “mandate transparency and local input for national monument designations under the Antiquities Act.”

Hardy’s goal is to prevent the federal government from restricting the economic activities of farmers and ranchers, who will lose grazing rights on the newly protected land.

Regarding Friday’s monument designations, which came just two days after his amendment passed, Hardy said in a statement provided to RealClearPolitics that he is “disappointed for Nevadans who were left out of the process.”

“We need to be sure local communities don’t have their concerns ignored by politicians eager to leave a legacy or pull favors for their friends by setting aside huge tracts of land,” Hardy said in a veiled reference to Obama. “…Legacy building in the twilight of one’s career shouldn’t be the driver of our nation’s public land management.”

The Antiquities Act was first used by former President Theodore Roosevelt 109 years ago to establish Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. Other notable designations made through the law include the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and the Canyon of the Ancients. It has been used to shield particular areas of land from being used for development purposes.

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