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U.S. Department of the Interior - Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs
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H.R. 250, H.R. 382, H.R. 432, H.R. 758, H.R. 1434, H.R. 1439, H.R. 1459 and H.R. 1512




Statement for the Record

U.S. Department of the Interior

before the

House Committee on Natural Resources

Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation

Concerning Eight Bills to Amend the Act Popularly Known as the

Antiquities Act of 1906

 

April 16, 2013

________________________________________________________________________

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide the views of the Administration on eight bills—H.R. 250, H.R. 382, H.R. 432, H.R. 758, H.R. 1434,H.R. 1439, H.R. 1459 and H.R. 1512—to amend the Act popularly known as the Antiquities Act of 1906 ("Antiquities Act").

The Administration strongly opposes these eight bills.The Antiquities Act has been used by presidents of both parties for more than 100 years as an instrument to preserve and protect critical natural, historical, and scientific resources on Federal lands for future generations.The authority has contributed significantly to the strength of the National Park System and the protection of special qualities of other Federal lands—resources that constitute some of the most important elements of our nation's heritage.These eight bills, which would limit the president's authority in various ways, would undermine this vital authority.

In addition, the Administration notes that four of the eight bills were introduced within the last week.Such a short period of time between bill introduction and the hearing does not afford the Administration sufficient time to fully review the introduced bills.Our position is based on the assumption that the introduced versions of the bills are identical to the texts of the bills that were shared with the Department of the Interior prior to their introduction.

Of the eight bills under consideration, H.R. 432, H.R. 758, H.R. 1434, H.R. 1439, and H.R. 1512, would bar the use of the Antiquities Act to extend or establish new national monuments in Nevada, Utah, Montana, Idaho, and New Mexico, respectively, unless authorized by Congress.H.R. 250 would require Congressional approval for national monuments designated by the president and would be applicable to designations in any state.H.R. 382 would require the approval of a state legislature and governor before the president could designate a national monument and would prohibit restrictions on public use of national monuments until there is a public review period and state approval of the monument.

H.R. 1459 would make several changes in the Antiquities Act, including requiring the president to consider proposals for national monument designation subject to the procedural provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), allow for designations of less than five-thousand acres to expire after three years unless enacted into law, and limit the president to one declaration per State during any four-year term of office without an express Act of Congress. While land management agencies typically use the NEPA process in their development of management plans for new national monuments, this application of NEPA to a discretionary decision by the president would be unprecedented and extraordinary because the president is not a Federal agency.

The use of the Antiquities Act was addressed in some of the listening sessions associated with the America's Great Outdoors initiative in 2010, and the public voiced strong support for the designation of unique places on Federal land as national monuments.As a result of this public input, one of the recommendations of the America's Great Outdoors report, issued in February 2011, was to implement a transparent and open approach in the development and execution of new monument designations.The Administration supports conducting an open, public process that considers input from local, state, and national stakeholders before any sites are considered for designation as national monuments through the Antiquities Act.All national monument designations respect valid existing rights on Federal lands and any other relevant provisions of law.National Monument designations only apply tolands owned or controlled by the Federal government.

The Antiquities Act was the first U.S. law to provide general protection for objects of historic or scientific interest on Federal lands. In the last decades of the 19th Century, educators and scientists joined together in a movement to safeguard archeological sites on Federal lands, primarily in the West, that were endangered by haphazard digging and purposeful, commercial artifact looting. After a generation-long effort to pass such a law, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act on June 8, 1906, thus establishing the first general legal protection of cultural and natural resources of historic or scientific interest.

The Antiquities Act set an important precedent by asserting a broad public interest in the preservation of natural and cultural resources on Federal lands.The law provided much of the legal foundation for cultural preservation and natural resource conservation in the Nation. It created the basis for the Federal government's current efforts to protect archeological sites from looting and vandalism.

After signing the Antiquities Act into law, President Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act eighteen times to establish national monuments.A number of those first monuments include what is now known as Grand Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Tumacacori National Historical Park, and Olympic National Park.

Since President Roosevelt, fourteen U.S. presidents have used the Act over 150 times to establish or expand national monuments.Congress has redesignated many of these national monuments as other types of national park units.Some of our most iconic national monuments established by presidential proclamation include Devils Tower, Muir Woods, Statue of Liberty, and Acadia National Park.The National Park Service currently manages seventy-eight national monuments.The Bureau of Land Management also administers nineteen national monuments designated by presidential proclamation, including Agua Fria in Arizona and Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado, which preserve significant archeological sites, and the Fish and Wildlife Service administers four national monuments.

Most recently, on March 25, 2013, President Obama used the Act to issue proclamations that established five national monuments, three of which are now part of the National Park System: Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument (OH), First State National Monument (DE), Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument (MD).President Obama also used the Act to establish two monuments that will be managed by the Bureau of Land Management: Rio Grande del Norte National Monument (NM) and San Juan Islands National Monument (WA).In these cases, the Department engaged in discussions with national, state, local, and Tribal stakeholders, and each monument enjoyed a broad spectrum of enthusiastic support.

Without the president's authority under the Antiquities Act, it is unlikely that many of these special places would have been protected and preserved as quickly and as fully as they were. As Congress intended when it enacted the Antiquities Act, the statute provides the necessary flexibility to respond quickly to impending threats to resource protection, while striking an appropriate balance between legislative and executive decision making.

The Antiquities Act has a proven track record of protecting—at critical moments—especially sensitive Federal lands and the unique cultural and natural resources they possess.These monuments have become universally revered symbols of America's beauty and legacy.Though some national monuments have been established amidst controversy, who among us today would dam the Grand Canyon, turn Muir Woods over to development, or deny the historic significance of Harriet Tubman's struggle against slavery?These sites are much cherished landscapes which help to define the American spirit.They speak eloquently to the wisdom of retaining the Antiquities Act is its current form.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Administration.