December 18, 2017
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As Maine waits for Trump, GOP bill would make it harder for presidents to create national monuments

By Nick Sambides, BDN Staff
Rick Bowmer | AP | BDN
Rick Bowmer | AP | BDN
House Republicans, including Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, are moving to restrict the president’s ability to protect millions of acres of federal land considered historic, geographically significant or culturally important.

A bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop that’s now under congressional review would severely curtail presidential power to create national monuments such as Maine’s.

The Utah Republican’s proposal requires environmental review and approval from governors as well as county and state governments for monuments larger than 10,000 acres. Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument encompasses 87,562 acres east of Baxter State Park and was created by then-President Barack Obama’s executive order in August 2016.

Bishop’s bill is an indication that while President Donald Trump has yet to say what he will do with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s recommendations regarding 27 national monuments, including Maine’s, the political battle over monuments continues.

And with their majorities in the House and Senate, Republicans could have the upper hand, said Sharon Buccino, director of the Land & Wildlife program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

“We do have to take the threat seriously,” Buccino said Monday. “Those who are holding the reins of power are not necessarily responsible to the public support for monuments.”

In a statement, Bishop, who wields great power as chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, described his bill as providing “a reasonable degree of consultation with local stakeholders and an open public process would be required by law.”

“It strengthens the president’s authority to protect actual antiquities without the threat of disenfranchising people,” Bishop added.

Trump administration officials have indicated that he might announce his decision regarding Zinke’s report this month. Several organizations have threatened to sue to stop the administration from taking action against monuments.

Environmentalists say Bishop’s bill would destroy a president’s ability to preserve artifacts or fauna of national importance.

“Bills such as this one are a thinly veiled attack on public land, and a radical effort to open up more of our nation’s majestic places to oil and gas drilling and exploitation,” said Cathy Johnson, an attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Bishop’s bill would have likely prevented the creation of Acadia National Park, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park or Katahdin Woods, Johnson said in a statement. All faced intense local opposition at first. Acadia, Grand Canyon and Zion became popular enough for Congress to eventually designate them national parks.

Dan Hartinger, a deputy director at The Wilderness Society, said in a statement that Bishop’s bill raises the stakes on “Secretary Zinke’s unpopular, illegal, secret recommendations for the future of our national monuments.”

The bill echoes one submitted last November by Maine Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whose district includes Katahdin Woods. It would require host governors and state legislatures to approve monuments created by presidential decree. That bill never made it out of committee.

Republicans have tried for years to limit the Antiquities Act. Five other bills have been submitted this year, all from Republicans, that would prohibit presidents from establishing or expanding monuments in particular states and subject presidential monuments to congressional or state legislative review, according to EveryCRSReport.com, which advertises itself as a non-partisan organization dedicated to expanding access to Congressional Research Service reports.

Poliquin plans to re-submit his bill later this year if it isn’t reintroduced by someone else, according to his office.

By headcount alone, the Republicans own both houses. Fifty-two of the Senate’s 100 seats are GOP, with the Republicans holding a healthy 239-194 majority in the U.S. House.

Bishop’s bill allows presidents to create monuments of up to 640 acres. Environmental reviews through the National Environmental Policy Act are mandatory for executive-order monuments as large as 10,000 acres, and local and state approval is needed for monuments from 10,000 to 85,000 acres. Anything over 85,000 acres would require state and local approval and a review.

A president could still name a monument of any size in an emergency, but it would expire in a year without congressional action.

The House committee passed the bill with a 27-13 vote along party lines on Oct. 11. Its congressional review continues.

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