The U.S. House passed legislation Thursday that would block federal funding for new national monuments, including one in Maine, though the president has threatened to veto the measure.
The House of Representatives voted 231-196 to pass a $32 billion Department of the Interior spending bill for the next fiscal year that bars funding for potential monuments in 47 counties within eight states, including Penobscot County.
No money from the budget “may be used to make a Presidential declaration by public proclamation of a national monument,” according to HR 5538.
President Barack Obama is said to be considering signing an executive order that would create a monument of about 87,500 acres east of Baxter State Park owned by the family of Burt’s Bees entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby. Quimby and her son, Lucas St. Clair, have campaigned to donate the land as a national park since 2011. The campaign’s focus shifted to creating a monument in November, when it became clear that Maine’s federal delegates would not submit a bill seeking a park.
Maine’s two representatives split on the Interior budget bill. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat representing the southern district, voted against it. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the northern district where the monument is proposed and a vocal critic of the plan, voted for it.
Pingree’s spokesman, Willy Ritch, doubted that the funding ban would survive the Senate, where it’s now under review, or affect the Quimby effort.
The bill covers the next fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2016, through Sept. 30, 2017, and wouldn’t affect any monuments designated before it starts. Obama has until the end of his term in January 2017 to designate new national monuments.
It also includes 23 funding or policy limitations as part of a House Republican attempt to encumber the president’s use of executive authority.
The funding bill “is filled with language that ties the hands of the EPA and the president in their efforts to preserve and protect our environment. It’s hard to imagine these radical proposals ever becoming law but even if they did they wouldn’t affect any monuments that had already been established,” Ritch said in a statement.
Poliquin favored the funding ban because of the local opposition to Quimby’s proposal, according to his spokesman, Brendan Conley.
Poliquin “has clearly stated that any process to incorporate federal land in Maine must have strong support from the local community. A unilateral designation of a national monument would not take into consideration any of the serious concerns of the Katahdin region residents and surrounding communities,” Conley said in a statement.
The 47 counties cited in the bill, Conley said, are places “where it is rumored designations might be made.”
St. Clair and his spokesman, David Farmer, did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Friday.
It remains unclear how any congressional attempts to block funding for national monuments could affect the North Woods proposal. Quimby has offered a $20 million endowment, and another $20 million in fundraising, for monument operations.
The Obama administration opposes several aspects of the bill, including the section pertaining to funding for national monuments. According to a White House statement released earlier this week, the bill “would debilitate a successful program that has been used to protect areas critical to the nation’s natural and cultural heritage such as Bandelier National Monument and the Statue of Liberty.”
Obama has created 22 national monuments and enlarged two more, a presidential record, according to the National Park Service. He has set aside more than 265 million acres, including some waterways.