Wasatch Environmental Update for October 29, 2017
By John Worlock, speaking for Save Our Canyons
“The Antiquities Act and its Antagonists”
Surely, we can count on you to be among the appreciators of the Antiquities Act. No, you are not a dealer in antiques, but you know that the Antiquities Act was enacted to allow the President, perhaps impatient with the inactivity of the Congress, to identify and preserve from what we will call plundering, those lands and landscapes in the United States that qualify as antiquities.
Over the eleven decades of its existence, the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents to designate 157 National Monuments covering millions of acres, thus protecting them as cultural and historical sites. Many of our favorite National Parks began as monuments. For example, in Utah alone, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches and Capitol Reef National Parks.
Frequently, there are attempts to reduce the presidential power under the Antiquities Act, but only twice have these been successful. In transforming Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Monument into a National Park, Congress reserved the right for itself to create any new Monument in Wyoming over a certain size. A similar restriction limits future Monuments in Alaska.
But now, with the proverbial fan in full blast, there is a bill in Congress calling for many impediments to the creation of National Monuments, restricting that right to Congress, and insisting on the approval of state and local governments. That bill is sponsored by one of Utah’s Congresspersons, who is the presiding chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, which unsurprisingly forwarded the bill on a party-line vote.
While that bill deserves a merciful death, that will not be easily achieved. Don’t bother writing your Utah congressperson: they are all on the same page and will support the bill’s author in his attempt to gut the Antiquities Act. They are not, ipso fact, bad persons. In fact the bill’s author is not a bad person. He and they are deeply infected with a faulty sense of values.
Our best chance of derailing this bill will be by allying ourselves with some of the powerful environmental organizations with national coverage. With help from the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club or the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, for example, we have a chance to reach those legislators who are not so afflicted by the Utah political anti-federal virus.