April 17, 2012
Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2012
A coalition of conservation groups yesterday slammed a Republican proposal to restrict the president’s ability to designate national monuments, arguing that the amendment rehashes a debate that was settled more than a year ago.
More than 30 groups, led by the Conservation Lands Foundation, are opposing an amendment by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) to H.R. 4089, a bill that would promote hunting, angling and shooting access on public lands, among other things.
The House Rules Committee last night voted to allow votes today on all but one of the nine amendments offered under a structured rule. An amendment by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) to clarify that “stand your ground” laws do not supersede federal public safety laws was ruled out of order.
Lawmakers last night also sparred over an amendment by Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) to resolve concerns that the bill would harm wilderness areas.
The Foxx amendment, one of eight to be debated on the floor today, would require the president to gain the approval of a state’s governor and Legislature before designating a national monument.
It is a revival of a debate over public lands that has sparked fierce partisan battles in the 112th Congress over the federal government’s right to control multiple uses on public lands.
Brian O’Donnell, executive director of CLF, said the House defeated a similar proposal to restrict monument designations by then-Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) during a budget debate more than a year ago on a bipartisan vote of 209-213.
“This is an important tool to protect our national heritage,” O’Donnell said of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which has been used by more than a dozen presidents to protect such sites as the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty. “It’s a solution without a problem.”
Nearly a quarter of the monuments in the National Park System were originally protected under the Antiquities Act, according to a letter from 32 groups. including the Wilderness Society and Sierra Club.
Foxx yesterday said that while the act has been used more than a hundred times since it was passed, some presidents have abused the authority.
“In many cases the presidents have violated the spirit of the Antiquities Act by not following the rules,” she said. “I believe there is widespread acceptance of my amendment.”
Republican critics point to the creation of the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, which was designated in 1996 during a ceremony in Arizona, to the chagrin of some local officials who had hoped to develop a coal mine within its borders. Supporters say monuments, including Grand Staircase-Escalante, have not stifled economic growth and, in many cases, have created new jobs.
Heinrich said a manager’s amendment to H.R. 4089 by House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) is too vague to protect roadless lands.
The New Mexico Democrat, who is vying for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) this November, proposed his own amendment, which clarifies that the bill does not allow oil and gas development, mining, logging or motorized activity on federal lands that are managed as wilderness.
The Heinrich proposal mirrors an amendment by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) that was defeated along party lines during a committee markup of the bill earlier this year.
“As an avid hunter, I strongly support increasing access to public land for hunting and fishing,” Heinrich told the Rules Committee. “But we can achieve that goal without eliminating the very wilderness protections that have protected some of the best backcountry wildlife habitat in our nation.”
The amendment from Hastings states that provisions of H.R. 4089 are “not intended to authorize or facilitate commodity development, use, or extraction, or motorized recreational access or use” in wilderness areas.
Heinrich said the word “intended” fails to prevent activities like oil and gas development, logging and motorized activities in wilderness areas and could open the door to special-interest lawsuits.
“Saying that it wasn’t the intent doesn’t change what the language in the bill allows,” he said.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said he could support the Heinrich amendment if it did not extend to wilderness study areas, which were identified by the Bureau of Land Management pursuant to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to be managed as wilderness until Congress determines their ultimate fate.
“If you would deal with only those things that are legislated and defined by Congress, real wilderness, then I think you have a much more valuable amendment here,” said Bishop, who criticized wilderness study areas as the work of government bureaucrats.
“I don’t have a problem necessarily with what your goal is trying to do,” he said. “I have a problem with that words ‘managed as wilderness.'”
The underlying bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), has gained strong support from dozens of hunting and angling groups, Second Amendment advocates and some Democrats.
It is still opposed by many Democrats and wilderness advocates (E&ENews PM, April 16).