Bishop tackles Antiquities Act with new legislation
Washington, D.C. – On Oct. 11, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed House of Representatives (HR). 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act, dubbed the CAP Act, which was introduced by Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah).
The bill was introduced with the intention of protecting archeological resources while also ensuring public transparency and accountability in the use of the Antiquities Act.
“Congress never intended to give one individual the power to unilaterally seize enormous swaths of our nation’s public lands,” Bishop said during markup of the bill. “Our problem isn’t with President Obama or President Trump. It’s the underlying law – a statute provides authority to dictate national monument decisions and without public input.”
He emphasized the only way to ensure accountability is to amend the Antiquities Act.
Ultimately, on markup, the bill was amended, adopted and ordered favorably reported to the House of Representatives by a vote of 23-17.
Reasons for the bill
Bishop emphasized that lack of transparency associated with the use of the Antiquities Act has been an overreach by the federal government.
“At the end of the day, any call for transparency is good,” he said.
He also explained that the bill introduces a new, tiered framework requiring a reasonable degree of consultation with local stakeholders and an open public process.
“HR 3990 strengthens the president’s authority to protect actual antiquities without the threat of disenfranchising people, something we can all agree is a bad thing,” Bishop emphasized, noting that his bill even goes so far as to strengthen the original intent of the law while adding accountability.
“We must also realize that the only path to the transparency and accountability we all seek – no matter which party controls the White House – is to amend the Act itself,” Bishop said.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) argued that, while he welcomes the chance to fight to increase transparency in the Antiquities Act, “We welcome the discussion of the language. National monuments are not a problem. The problem is this committee and this administration.”
HR 3990 protects archeological artifacts in imminent danger and ensures comprehensive review of designations.
Bishop also notes that the bill empowers state and local voices by requiring county commissioner, state legislature and governor approval of designations between 10,000 and 85,000 acres to protect the economic viability of local landscapes.
Additionally, Bishop included provisions to provide emergency national monuments for up to one year to protect areas during times of emergency.
Finally, the bill prohibits marine national monuments and limits presidential power to reduce national monuments.
The bill would also require National Environmental Policy Act reviews on proposed designations greater than 640 acres and prior written consent of impacted landowners before private property is included in a proposed designation.
Markup of the bill was praised by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Public Lands Council (PLC), who noted that reform of the Antiquities Act is long overdue.
“Previous presidents consistently ignored original congressional intent for monument designations to be the ‘smallest area compatible’ with conservation objectives,” said Dave Eliason, PLC president. “Repeated abuse of executive authority under the Antiquities Act harmed local economies and communities in rural areas across the country.”
NCBA President Craig Uhden added, “HR 3390 adds critical details to original, vague legislation regarding the creation and management of national monuments. By limiting presidential authority and restoring balance to the monument designation process, the bill would ensure local ranchers and communities are not subject to the whims of an unchecked federal government.”
At the same time Bishop worked to pass HR 3990, he also introduced HR 3400, the Recreation Not Red Tape Act, as a companion bill to Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) bill in the Senate. Wyden and Bishop are attempting to make the legislation a bipartisan bill.
A hearing was held on HR 3400 on Oct. 3 by the Federal Lands Committee.
The bill intends “to promote innovative approaches to outdoor recreation on federal land and to open up opportunities for collaboration with non-federal partners and for other purposes.”
However, there is concern from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) that Title III, which establishes the process for designating the national recreation areas, raises recreation to a higher level than other uses, such as grazing, on public land.
“We believe that current uses of public land must be protected. We also do not want other, equally important, uses of land to be prohibited on large areas of public land,” said Holly Heussner, a staffer in Rep. Cheney’s office. “We are concerned that the criteria for designating national recreation areas is too broad, which could result in more restrictions on our public land.”
To alleviate concerns, Bishop has indicated he will work with the committee to amend the bill. Rep. Cheney is currently working on the best approach to amend the bill to address concerns.
The bill has not yet been scheduled for markup.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org