You can count on the western Republicans in Congress to periodically come out swinging against all things federal and environmental--particularly members of the House Natural Resources Committee. In the same bag with "class warfare," and "job-killing regulations" is the trope about the government "locking up" federal lands. These days, National Monuments are the scourge of the western GOP.
A seminal event in the annals of anti-public land politics was President Clinton's 1996 designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, under authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906-the same Act that had brought initial protection to such places as the Grand Canyon. Under the Act, a president may unilaterally protect objects of historic or scientific interest-e.g., the cultural and geological wonders of Utah's Red Rock country-by protecting the land encompassing them.
Clinton's designation of the GSENM infuriated the Utah congressional delegation, who feared that the monument would hamper exploitation of state lands within the monument. To mollify them, then- Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt put together a massive land trade between the Bureau of Land Management and the State of Utah that is generally agreed to have been a steal for the state. Nevertheless, Utah politicians have never gotten out of their snit over the GSENM, and it has become a much-flogged symbol of government takeover.
Now, 15 years after designation of the Grand Staircase NM, three members of the House have introduced state "sovereignty" bills that would prohibit designation of national monuments in Utah, Idaho, and Montana without congressional approval.
Meaning, public lands held in trust for all of us could lose out on needed protection. For it is a long-standing custom in Congress to defer to members of a particular state on matters pertaining to federal land in that state.
Kind of negates the whole idea of public land, doesn't it?
And, just in case some president might be thinking about giving special recognition to public land in a state other than UT, MT, or ID, there's the "Preserve Land Freedom for Americans Act," which requires approval by the governor and legislature for a national monument designation in any state.
These belligerent proposals are highly unlikely to get past the obstacle of the Democratic Senate, but if the Senate changes hands in 2012, we could see lots more of the same.
If you live in Idaho, Montana, or Utah, we encourage you let your representative know that you oppose state "sovereignty" to block decisions to protect our shared public land. Bill texts and contact info are provided in the links below:
Rob Bishop (R-UT), HR 2147
Denny Rehberg (R-MT), HR 845
Raul Labrador (R-ID), HR 846
Thanks so much for your interest and support!
-Janine, Chris, and Emily