Maine’s national monument will be attacked on two fronts if, as anticipated, President Donald Trump orders a review of monument designations later this week, and Gov. Paul LePage testifies before Congress on May 1 against executive orders that create monuments without state approval.
LePage will fly to Washington, D.C. to testify before a House Committee on Natural Resources subcommittee next week in opposition to national monument designations created by presidential order, the governor confirmed Monday during a press conference in Augusta.
“The Legislature in Maine said [it] didn’t want a national park or monument and he [President Barack Obama] went ahead and did it anyway,” LePage said Monday. “I’m going to say he violated the Antiquities Act and it should be reversed.”
The committee’s spokeswoman, Molly Block, said she could not confirm the hearing or LePage’s attendance, but might be able to later this week.
“We’re happy to see an administration finally taking action to resolve the many abuses of the Antiquities Act,” Block told the BDN in an email Monday.
LePage has claimed at least once previously that the Antiquities Act requires presidents to get state approval, but it doesn’t say that. The word “state” doesn’t appear in the law except in the context of “the United States.” The act allows the president to designate monuments “at his discretion” on land controlled by the federal government. Republicans have long pushed to add congressional or state approval to the act, but that hasn’t happened.
LePage also said that the monument allows only hiking, but hunting, hiking, camping and snowmobiling are all permitted uses, according to the monument’s activities page at nps.gov.
LePage’s preference, the governor said, would be for Trump to lift the designation from the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, and to hire people from neighboring Baxter State Park to manage the 87,563-acre parcel. He described the monument parcels as cutdown forest lands, of no great interest.
“There is nothing that’s going to happen [with the monument],” LePage said, predicting it would add nothing to the Katahdin region’s economy.
LePage has said that he wanted the land transferred to state ownership. Baxter officials, who strive to limit access to the state park to about 75,000 visitors annually in order to preserve its wilderness, have said they fear the monument would draw people beyond that limit into Baxter. They also have battled with National Park Service officials who manage the Appalachian Trail over hikers who come into Baxter and disregard that park’s rules.
Meanwhile, a senior White House official not authorized to speak publicly told media that Trump will order a review by the federal Department of the Interior of national monuments created by presidential executive order within the past 21 years.
Trump’s goal: to discern whether their size and scope are within the law’s intent. President Obama signed an executive order creating the Katahdin Woods 87,563-acre monument east of Baxter State Park on Aug. 24, 2016, but the Utah newspaper said the move was mostly prompted by a monument designation in that state last year.
Several of Obama’s orders creating monuments have come under fire from conservatives, including LePage, who say they were established through unilateral federal government edict, without state or local approval. Liberals and environmentalists have criticized Trump for dismantling the environmental gains of the Obama Administration, which include the monument designations.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents southern Maine, said Monday it “would be terrible” for Trump to try to overturn the monument designation, “an authority he very likely does not have in the first place,” she said in a statement.
“In the few months since its designation, the area has seen more visitors, more activity at retailers and even increased property values,” added Pingree, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, which oversees park service funding.
Monument opponent Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said Trump’s order seeking the designation review is “a prudent step.” Executive overreach through the Antiquities Act “is not unique to Obama,” he said.
The association is a key element to the state’s $350 million snowmobile industry. The association helps volunteer groups manage trails that mostly run through privately-owned land. The group has opposed the monument because it considers the monument a potentially oppressive federal presence in the North Woods.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, said a Trump review of the younger monuments would answer “many unknowns.”
“Right now we do not know the legal authority the President has to undo the actions of a previous President or the outcome of a potential ruling from the courts,” spokesman Brendan Conley said.
Trump’s order is not expected to change monument designations immediately, according to the Tribune.
Leading monument proponent Lucas St. Clair, whose mother, Burt’s Bees entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby donated the land to the National Park Service last year, has said that the deeds would prohibit the transfer of the land to the state. He also said the Quimby family would withdraw its commitment to create a $20 million endowment, and raise another $20 million, if the land was transferred to another agency.
St. Clair on Monday said LePage was pursuing an ideological goal rather than dealing with the practical benefits of the monument. He wondered why LePage would go to Washington when the state has, he said, bigger problems to deal with.
Before it was created, the proposed Katahdin Woods drew opposition from many Maine Republicans, including LePage, Poliquin and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, and some of the towns around the monument.
Since the designation, however, Katahdin region leaders have said they accept the monument and have vowed to work with park service leaders on it — perhaps an implicit nod to Katahdin Woods’ officials saying that the monument has lured new visitors to the economically-battered region. Monument officials said in November that 1,762 vehicles were counted on the main road into the lands last year, including 1,215 after Obama issued the executive order in August.
The yearly vehicle count exceeded the individual 2010 census estimates of the populations of East Millinocket, 1,723 people; Medway, 1,349; Patten, 1,017; Sherman, 848; and Mount Chase, 201 people.
Collins, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said in February that LePage was wrong to ask President Donald Trump to reverse an executive order that created the monument and return the land to private ownership or state management.
Experts have said it is unclear whether a president can rescind an executive order creating a monument, but Congress can.
BDN Writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.