The preservation of our national parks and historic monuments was made possible by the passage of the Antiquities Act, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. In the state of Washington, more than
7 million tourists a year visit our national parks, boosting local economies by an estimated $400 million.
House Republications have launched an attack last week on this natural legacy. Legislation introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and passed by the U.S. House on March 26 uses the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) for the deeply ironic purpose of restricting the creation and preservation of national parks and monuments.
Even worse, it makes the declaration of future national monuments provisional, with a review every three years. That sets up a perpetual lobbying contest between conservation groups and the fossil fuel industry.
Sixteen different presidents of both political parties have used the Antiquities Act more than 100 times to protect public lands. Last year, President Barack Obama used it to designate the San Juan Islands National Monument, which protects archaeological sites of the Coast Salish people, lighthouses and other relics of early settlers.
Former President George W. Bush used the act in 2006 to create the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, the nation’s largest preserve. At more than 140,000 square miles, it is larger than the total of all U.S. national parks.
Bishop’s bill, HB 1459, treats the protection of such national treasures akin to permitting a coal mine.
By subjecting the declaration of national monuments to the NEPA, Bishop attempts to reverse the forward-thinking intent of the Antiquities Act. Roosevelt’s legacy was to review the use of public lands before they are destroyed, not before protecting them.
Once public lands are mined or drilled, the damage may last forever. Preserving public lands and historic sites should protect them forever.
Rep. Denny Heck voted against the bill, along with Washington’s other congressional Democrats and Republican Rep. Dave Reichert. Ten other Republicans joined the opposition, but it passed on a 222-201 vote.
“We shouldn’t play political games with Washington state’s protected public lands. Both Democratic and Republican presidents have used this law to preserve some of the most beautiful sites in our state and our country, and this bill would needlessly complicate the process,” Heck said.
It’s a curious bill for a Republican from Utah, a state that benefits economically from five national parks, seven national monuments, two national recreation areas and the Golden Spike National Historic Site – the place where the Union and Central Pacific railroads joined to complete a transcontinental link.
Bishop’s bill also contradicts the Republicans’ desire to cut federal spending. The bill would cost taxpayers $2 million over four years. It’s a relatively small amount, but further evidence of a Republican’s willingness to put aside principle to achieve a political goal – namely, to make public lands harder to protect, and easier to mine or drill.
This is a bad bill. Fortunately it will die in the U.S. Senate. At least, for now.