Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Monuments to Unemployment


As Americans confront the economic hardship of double digit unemployment and economic stagnation, they are looking to their national leaders with growing distrust. And why shouldn’t they? Leaders in Washington have shown a disregard for the economic health of our country, pursuing policies that destroys jobs, lowers economic growth and bankrupts the U.S. government.

President Obama may soon worsen economic conditions—particularly in rural America. According to a leaked Department of Interior (DOI) memo, the President is currently considering the establishment of 14 new National Monuments in 9 states. These designations will have a devastating impact on surrounding communities because a monument designation forces out people dependent on public lands for their economic survival.

Without logging, mining, drilling, and other resource management activities, communities in and around these new monuments lose their jobs. Economic collapse comes astonishingly fast as the infrastructure needed to extract, process and transport resources vanishes almost overnight. Meanwhile, our nation becomes increasingly dependent on foreign energy sources, timber, and even food.

The ability of Presidents to act unilaterally and restrict access to public lands is rooted in the Antiquities Act of 1906. The century old law was enacted in response to fears of the destruction and theft of U.S. archaeological sites and treasures; since then, it has been used on a much grander scale by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Today, there are 71 National Monuments located in 26 states, covering some 136 million acres.

Many of these monuments warrant protective status. Montezuma Castle National Monument in Arizona, for example, represents one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America, while the Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico protects the prehistoric remains of an ancestral Pueblo society. The protection of these sites and others like them was in accordance with the intent of the Antiquities Act, which authorized the President to proclaim national monuments on federal lands with “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”

However, various White House Administrations have interpreted the law as providing the President much broader powers—a view upheld by the courts. This has made the Antiquities Act an irresistible tool of radical environmentalists and their allies seeking to restrict access to public lands. Environmental politics was behind, for example, President Clinton’s establishment of 19 new monuments – including designations in California – that decimated the state’s timber industry. California lost 84 wood product mills and factories, representing more than 54,000 jobs. Sierra Forest Products and the small community of Dinuba were among the casualties as Sierra and Sequoia National Park timber production plummeted from 183 million board feet per year to only 10 million.

These “political” monument designations are clearly not in keeping with the spirit or intent of the Antiquities Act. For this reason, I have introduced legislation – the National Monuments Designation Transparency and Accountability Act – that requires all new monuments to be approved by Congress within two years of their establishment. Without Congressional approval, a monument designation made under the reformed Antiquities Act would terminate as would any restrictions placed upon its uses.

To restore meaningful oversight and transparency, consultation with local communities and the public will be required prior to future designations. My bill will also require that within a year of a new monument designation, the Department of Interior produce a report on its economic impact, in addition to the impact on our nation’s energy security.

The changes I have outlined are intended to prevent use of the Antiquities Act for political purposes. My bill will not eliminate existing National Monument designations, nor will it prevent the President from acting to protect national treasures or important historic sites in the future. Instead, the reforms I propose will force the President to justify his actions before the American people. Without reform, rural America remains at risk of politically motivated land restrictions that not only undermine our economy but increase our nation’s dependence on importation of goods that can and should be produced here.

Many organizations associated with public lands and rural America support the reforms I have outlined. To date, endorsements have come from: American Sheep Industry Association, Arizona Wool Growers Association, California Forestry Association, California Wool Growers Association, Colorado Wool Growers Association, Idaho Wool Growers Association, Independent Oil Producers Association, Montana Wool Growers Association, National Association of Counties, Public Lands Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, Nevada Wool Growers Association, New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, New Mexico Federal Lands Council, New Mexico Wool Growers, Inc., Northern New Mexico Stockmen’s Association, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, Oregon Sheep Growers Association, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, Texas Sheep & Goat Raisers Association, Utah Cattlemen’s Association, Utah Wool Growers Association, Washington State Sheep Producers, and Wyoming Wool Growers Association.

If you or your organization would like to be added as supporters of the National Monument Designation Transparency and Accountability Act, please contact my office.