On Thursday (March 27, 2014), the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly voted 222-201 in favor of H.R. 1459 “Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act,” which is better (and more accurately) known as “The Anti-Parks Bill.” To see how your U.S. House Member voted, go to http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2014/roll147.xml
For those of us who have made it our life’s work to keep America’s national parks and monuments truly bipartisan and non-political, the passage of H.R. 1459 is a tragic development. Now, our national parks and monuments are being treated as a political football that is being kicked around, for the sake of nothing more than crass posturing. By putting politics first, the U.S. House put protection of America’s heritage last.
EXAMINING THE BILL
Among other things, H.R. 1459 would:
- Amends the historic Antiquities Act of 1906 to require that national monument declarations by the President be subjected to review under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).
This is a solution in search of a problem. This cynical section of the bill suggests that assuring the protection of extraordinary natural and historic resources requires the kind of environmental review now reserved for mountaintop removal sites, oil and gas pipelines, major Army Corps of Engineer projects, and nuclear waste disposal. When the President acts to protect nationally significant resources under the Antiquities Act, the President increases protection of the environment, making NEPA review unnecessary. The bill sponsors’ cynical reason for wanting to require this review is to add time to the process as well as multiple opportunities for opponents to block the proposed action. These opponents are typically narrow interests seeking to exploit these extraordinary national resources rather than preserve them. Such interests are often successful in blocking action in Congress; in fact, since 2009, with the exception of a Michigan wilderness area, Congress has failed to protect a single acre of public land. The speed and flexibility of the action possible under the Antiquities Act assures that present and future generations can enjoy their national heritage intact.
- Prohibits: (1) the President from making more than one such declaration in a state during any presidential four-year term of office without an express Act of Congress, or (2) such a declaration from including private property without the informed written consent of the affected private property owner.
This provision is arbitrary and baseless. National monuments, by law, include only already federally-owned property; private property may not be part of the national monument. From a national perspective, if previous Presidents had been stripped of their authority to create monuments, they would not have been able to preserve key aspects of America, including what are now many national parks. Since President Teddy Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, it has been used on a bipartisan basis by 16 Presidents (eight Republicans and eight Democrats) to protect America’s most iconic natural, cultural, and historic places: the Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty, Acadia, Zion, Grand Teton, and Olympic National Parks. Half of our National Parks were originally protected using the Antiquities Act. Today, in addition to the 59 units that are national parks, there are 78 national monuments. Together these and 264 other units make up the present day U.S. National Park System.
- Requires such a declaration: (1) to be considered a major federal action under NEPA if it affects more than 5,000 acres; (2) to be categorically excluded under NEPA and to expire three years after the date of the declaration (unless specifically designated as a monument by federal law) if it affects 5,000 acres or less; and (3) to be followed by a feasibility study that includes an estimate of the costs associated with managing the monument in perpetuity, including any loss of federal and state revenue.
Again, this provision conflicts with the intent of the Antiquities Act’s Presidential national monument designation authority. Don’t the House Members who passed H.R. 1459 understand that a large majority of Americans want our government to be nimble enough to continue to identify and protect special places or fragile resources when necessary as National Monuments? The idea of the “public good” has been lost on these lawmakers. At no point over the past century have landmark laws established to protect the special historical places we cherish been more vulnerable to attack from inside our own government.
The passage of H.R. 1459 marks a truly sad day for America. Proposed changes to the Antiquities Act are baseless, unwarranted and contrived strictly for political gain. The lawmakers in Washington who voted for this bill need to re-study American History 101 because many holding the reins of power have forgotten why our ancestors gave the nation’s chief executive the power to protect public lands. The big picture and unintended consequences of the bill have seemed to escape its sponsors.
We hope you will help shed light on this important issue, and urge the U.S. Senate to not take this bill up for a vote. For more information, contact Patrick Mitchell, (703) 276-3266 or pm*******@ha***********.com.
Coalition of National Park Service Retirees
A former Superintendent of Everglades and Olympic National Parks Maureen Finnerty dedicated her career to the national parks, serving for over 30 years with the National Park Service. During that three decade span she spent 15 years in the Park Service’s national office in Washington, DC; three years in a regional office in Philadelphia; and 13 years in various national parks.
The 950 members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees are all former employees of the National Park Service with a combined 30,000 years of stewardship of America’s most precious natural and cultural resources. In their personal lives, CNPSR members reflect the broad spectrum of skills and expertise that distinguished their National Park Service careers. CNPSR members now strive to apply their credibility and integrity as they speak out for national park solutions that uphold law and apply sound science. The Coalition counts among its members: former directors, deputy directors, regional directors, superintendents, rangers and other career professionals who devoted an average of nearly 30 years each to protecting and interpreting America’s national parks on behalf of the public.