President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906. The law was the first to establish a means of protecting cultural and natural resources on U.S. lands, and was meant to help government preserve historic, scientific, and otherwise valuable lands for future generations by declaring them National Monuments.
Several generations later, President Obama has utilized his power under the act to expand public lands more than any other president, establishing a total of 22 national monuments. Most recently, in February, he designated three new monuments covering a total of around 1.8 million acres in California: the Sand to Snow National Monument, the Mojave Trails Nations Monument, and the Castle Mountains National Monument. The White House deemed it necessary to create these monuments after a long battle over congressional legislation to protect the region ended up going nowhere due to infighting between mining companies, hunters, environmentalists, and other stakeholders.
Unsurprisingly, this unilateral move by the White house irked a number of congressional Republicans, and now several House Republican leaders are striking back by opening an investigation into the process leading to the creation of the monuments and the use of the Antiquities Act in general.
On Tuesday, three Republican committee chairmen—Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee; Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee; and Hal Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee—wrote letters to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, requesting “all documents and communications referring to or relating to the selection or designation of national monuments under the Antiquities Act.”
In the letters, the congressmen state that Obama's California national monuments nearly doubled the total amount of land set aside by his administration as national monuments, and that in total he has set aside about 265 million acres in land and water (mostly water) during his time in office.
They say this "broad and frequent application of the Antiquities Act raises questions about the lack of transparency and consultation with local stakeholders."
David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he thinks the congressmen are issuing the investigation as a warning in case the White House chooses to move forward on another potential national monument—the 1.9-million-acre Bears Ears national monument in southern Utah. Both Chaffetz and Bishop represent Utah.
Chaffetz, Bishop, and Rogers are not the only three House Republicans up in arms about Obama's use of the act. Last fall, Congressman Paul A. Gosar (R-AZ), introduced H.R. 3946, a bill meant to update the Antiquities Act and prevent it from being "repeatedly abused in order to appease special-interest groups and bypass the legislative process."
Shamefully, President Obama has exceeded the intent of this law more than any other American president…Unfortunately, he isn’t done yet, and I expect several more overreaching declarations in the next 14 months.
According to Gosar's release "national monument designations under the Antiquities Act typically have significant consequences that negatively affect grazing rights, water rights, wildfire prevention, and other land management activities."
In contrast, the Obama administration says its recent national monument designations, such as the Mojave Trails area, "will preserve its cultural, prehistoric, and historic legacy and maintain its diverse array of natural and scientific resources, ensuring that the prehistoric, historic, and scientific values of this area remain for the benefit of all Americans."
The whole attack on the Antiquities Act is eerily similar to another ongoing House investigation in which a committee leader is demanding documents and communications from federal employees. In this case, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) is demanding that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ) Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan submit email communications. He is trying to prove that the agency rushed to publication on some a climate study despite concerns and objections from other scientists.
So far, Smith—a climate change denier—has met with little success and a lot of criticism and pushback.