WASHINGTON - The House has approved a Republican bill to limit the president's ability to designate new national monuments, a step President Barack Obama and predecessors have taken to protect historic or ecologically significant sites.
The bill approved Wednesday, sponsored by Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, would require an environmental review — including a public hearing — before designation of monuments larger than 5,000 acres. Only one monument per state could be created in a president's four-year term.
Bishop and other Republicans have complained that Obama has designated a half-dozen monuments in the past year without input from Congress.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., is an original co-sponsor of the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation (EPIC) of National Monuments Act (H.R. 1459) that would require public participation before a presidentially declared national monument is made official.
"Land-use decisions should be made in the sunshine, with full input from affected citizens like farmers and ranchers," Walden said. "The president shouldn't be able to lock up thousands of acres of federal land to all productive uses with just the stroke of his pen and no say from the American people."
"That's why I've worked for a long time to reform the Antiquities Act to stop its worst abuses. This common-sense bill would ensure that future national monuments are created with public participation, not behind closed doors at the White House," Walden said.
Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, the president can designate a national monument unilaterally, without public input. This was originally intended to be used in emergency situations to protect important historic sites and sites of scientific value from an imminent threat.
But since the law passed over a century ago, Walden said excessive use of the Antiquities Act has grown under presidents of both parties. He said Oregon's Second District has faced threats to create national monuments unilaterally from the Clinton and Obama administrations, efforts Walden has opposed.
The EPIC Act would classify national monument declarations by the president as a "major federal action," which would trigger a process that requires transparency and input from local communities.
It would allow temporary, small "emergency" designations if there is an imminent threat to a historic site. It also would prevent the inclusion of private property in monument decisions without prior approval from property owners.
Opponents said the bill was unnecessary, noting that presidents have had authority to create national monuments for more than a century.
According to The Associated Press, the legislation is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.