Public Outcry Besets House Vote on National Monuments
In only a matter of days, a large coalition of voices came together to stop the “Preventing New Parks” Bill – H.R. 1459. Sportsmen, businesses, African Americans, Hispanics, and Veterans joined with conservationists and preservationists to oppose the measure. Dozens of groups from the Friends Grassroots Network joined voices with organizations like the NAACP and Hispanic Federation in calling for the bill’s defeat.
More than 100 stories ran in newspapers around the country in the days leading up to the vote showcasing public support for protecting new parks and monuments. We saw editorials in many western papers in favor of the Antiquities Act including the Bakersfield Californian, Santa Fe New Mexican, Salt Lake Tribune, Denver Post, San Francisco Chronicle and LA Times. Despite the groundswell of opposition, the House voted On March 26th to approve the bill 222-201. Ten Republicans vote against the bill, and three Democrats voted for it.
Having brought a 100 year bipartisan history of land conservation to a screeching halt in Congress, House Leadership is now intent on attacking the last tool available for Americans to achieve protections for important historic, cultural and natural areas. The Preventing New Parks Bill would undermine the President’s authorities by gutting the Antiquities Act—our nation’s most important conservation tool. Under an arbitrary provision of the bill that limits the number of monument designations in each state to one per presidential term, it would have been impossible for President Theodore Roosevelt to use the Antiquities Act as he did to protect the Grand Canyon. If it were to become law, this arbitrary restriction would mean that the President would be prohibited from responding to the local community and protecting the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument.
While this was a setback in the House, the campaign to stop H.R. 1459 showed how strong and widespread the support is for protecting public lands, and for national monuments in particular. Equally impressive were the powerful statements from Members of Congress who had National Monuments designated in their districts by President Obama that one by one came to the House floor to support the Antiquities Act. Members like Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia and Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico shared personal stories of how the Antiquities Act was the right tool to protect the diverse heritage of their constituents when Congress had failed them. We are fortunate to have strong conservation champions to defend the Antiquities Act and CLF appreciates the leadership of all those who voted against H.R. 1459.
Fortunately, the Preventing New Parks Bill has little chance of passage in the Senate. It does serve as a reminder of the threat that faces our recently established National Conservation Lands, and the ever present need for communities to defend both the gains that have been made, and the tools that make our shared conservation legacy possible.