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ICYMI: GOP bill to curb presidential powers draws enviro backlash

Last week, Alaskan Congressman Don Young introduced legislation to provide a more open and transparent process for future national monument designations, with a particular focus on marine monuments. Young’s legislation would work to improve the national monument designation process by requiring transparency, public participation, and Congressional approval before closing federal land and oceans from activities precluded by a national monument designation.

Upon introduction of the bill, environmental groups opined it would “obstruct communities’ efforts to safeguard important historical, cultural, and natural sites by undermining the Antiquities Act.” However, Congressman Young’s legislation would work to open the national monuments process, one that has unfairly impacted Western states for decades, by encouraging state and community involvement and approval.

Congressman Young has stated by unilaterally declaring these types of massive distinctions without seeking input from Congress or properly consulting the many people and industries that depend on the area, the President fails to fully consider the social and economic impact of the decision.

In a news report by E&E Publishing, Phil Taylor details Congressman Young’s legislation and his motivation to introduce it.

NATIONAL MONUMENTS: GOP bill to curb presidential powers draws enviro backlash

By Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) this week introduced a bill that would strip the president of his land and water conservation powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act, a move that drew attacks from conservation groups.

Young's H.R. 330 would require congressional approval and a National Environmental Policy Act review before the president could declare a national monument or restrict land uses like energy development.

In addition, it would require presidents to obtain approval from nearby state legislatures before declaring a national monument in the ocean.

The measure appears substantively the same as H.R. 4988, introduced last Congress by former Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), which failed to advance beyond the Natural Resources Committee.

Young spokesman Matthew Shuckerow said today the congressman "wants to see a congressional involvement" in which federal lands and waters receive protection.

It's the first of what will likely be many Republican attacks on the Antiquities Act in the 114th Congress now that both chambers are under GOP control.

Young, who was an original co-sponsor of the Southerland bill, said in July 2014 that the measure was a direct response to President Obama's decision to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to several times its size.

"This massive expansion of executive power by President Obama, which would effectively close off an area 1.2 times the size of the state of Alaska, is extremely troubling to me and a number of my colleagues in Congress," Young said in a statement then.

It was Obama's largest monument designation or expansion under the act, which he has used more than a dozen times to protect federal lands in several states, including landscape-scale designations in New Mexico and California.

The House last year passed a bill by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who now leads the House Natural Resources Committee, that would require monuments to be approved through NEPA and would limit the number of monuments any president can declare.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate has a filibuster-proof 60 votes to pass such a measure this Congress. Obama would likely veto it.

Conservation groups girding for such a fight today panned Young's bill, arguing that the Antiquities Act has been used by presidents of both parties to preserve lands that can catalyze outdoor recreation jobs in rural communities.

"Attacks on the Antiquities Act undermine our nation's rich conservation heritage and completely fly in the face of public opinion," said a statement by Brian O'Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation. "Time and time again, the American people have made it clear that they support efforts to protect public lands that inspire us, connect us to our history and provide us with clean water and places to enjoy the outdoors."

Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters, said Young "missed the message the American people sent during the government shutdown two years ago."

"Americans value our national parks and iconic areas like Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty, but this legislation would attack the century-old law that has helped protect them," Taurel said.

Young said his legislation would not ban national monument designations but rather "simply calls for an open and transparent process."

"I think Alaskans and Americans alike should look with suspicion on the motivations of those groups that oppose providing some sunlight to the national monument designation process," Young said in an emailed statement.

 

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