Republicans Take Aim at Antiquities Act: Frustration With Obama Shows
President Barack Obama has been wearing out the nib on his executive pen as of late, but if Congress has its way, he’ll run out of ink, at least in regards to environmental protection policy. House Republicans’ main concern at the moment deals with whether or not Obama should be able to designate public lands as protected on his own, or if such decisions need to be subject to greater review. The president’s recent increase in protection declarations is part of a new push, fueled largely by the new White House counselor John Podesta, to take more aggressive stances on the environment this year, such as more public land protections.
“He’s clearly the one person in the White House who understands these issues, cares about these issues and has the president’s ear,” said Whit Fosburgh, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, to The Washington Post. Regardless of who is behind Obama’s latest environmental intensification, it follows closely what he promised in his State of the Union Address, when he said he planned to use his “authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”
Obama has been making these moves based on the Antiquities Act of 1906, which has been used in the past by sixteen presidents to protect certain areas. Republicans in Congress are hoping to disallow continued use of the act by the president, saying that the act should be used by the House and Senate instead. A bill passed on Wednesday in the House that required public scrutiny should the president want to make anything larger than 5,000 acres a national monument. Representative Doc Hasting (R-Wash.) told The Washington Post that the focus is in line with Republican strategy to quiet discontent with the increased involvement of the president in general, while more controversial areas such as minimum wage or immigration are considerably more difficult to approach.
“There’s been a lot of criticism of the president overstepping his bounds in a variety of ways. This bill is simply another area to highlight,” said Hastings to The Washington Post. ”I think the process over the past 100 years has gotten to the point where presidents in both parties have overstepped what I think the intent of the act was.”
Still, some, including Kristen Brengel, senior director for legislation and policy at the National Parks Conservation Association, argue that revenue is also produced from the protection, such as in the case of Utah. “The act has brought amazing value to the state of Utah, and yet Bishop (House sponsor of the bill) is trying to dismantle the very thing that’s brought such prosperity to Utah. It’s an unfortunate situation every time [this] bill gets offered,” said Brengel to The Washington Post. According to an NPCA analysis, $500 million in economic benefits was brought to Utah from seven national parks there in 2012.
Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) argues that little will be changed. “Whoop-dee-doo,” he said according to The Post, arguing that if the bill passes Obama “can still [designate public monuments], he just has to go through a public process first. Nothing is being stopped here.”
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