WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Wednesday passed a bill to curtail presidential powers to designate national monuments, a legislation conservation groups condemned as shortsighted and which they urged the Senate to reject.
Rep. Dave Reichert of Auburn broke from the GOP majority to vote against it, one of just 10 Republicans to do so. The measure passed 222 to 201, with three Democrats siding with Republicans.
Three other House Republicans from Washington, including Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas, voted in favor.
Hastings has been relentless critic of Obama’s environmental policies, and has used his committee to stall legislation to expand wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers. Hastings plans to retire after 10 terms in November.
Wednesday’s legislation, Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act, would significantly neuter the 1906 Antiquities Act under which presidents have the power to protect historic landmarks and other features by declaring them national monuments.
In March 2013, President Obama used that authority to proclaim the San Juan Islands National Monument, prohibiting or limiting development and recreational uses on parts of the San Juans owned by the federal government. Obama designated four other national monuments at the same time.
Obama also is considering adding other national monuments and wilderness areas, including Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds region.
The House bill would require public input into monument designations. Presidents also would be limited to one national monument designation per state per four-year term.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, said in a statement her voted for the measure to limit “unwarranted use” of public lands and to “ensure that privately owned land will no longer come under the threat of being federally allocated.”
No national monument designation has ever converted private property into federal property, according to the Congressional Research Service. In some cases, non-federal lands can fall within outer boundaries of national monuments, although the ownership remains unchanged.
More than 100 conservation, tourism, cultural heritage and historic preservation groups opposed the bill.
Craig Obey, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association, said national monument designations not only protect special places, but are good economic investments.
“This is a sad day for our national parks, which are universally appreciated throughout our country and the world,” Obey said in a statement. “The parks, including those added via the Antiquities Act, enjoy overwhelming public support, which makes action to reduce presidential authority to protect such places under the Antiquities Act all the more mystifying.”