NPCA, along with partners, submitted the following position to members of the House Committee on Natural Resources ahead of a markup scheduled for October 11, 2017.
On behalf of the over 40 undersigned organizations and our millions of members across the country, we are writing to strongly urge you to OPPOSE the “No New Parks bill” H.R. 3990. H.R. 3990, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act would neither create nor protect parks or monuments. Instead it would block nearly all new parks and monuments by gutting the Antiquities Act and make it easier to roll back protections for existing parks and monuments.
Since its enactment over a century ago, the Antiquities Act has been one of our nation’s most critical and popular conservation tools for preserving our most important public lands and waters. After being signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt, the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 Presidents (8 Republicans and 8 Democrats) as the initial protections for nearly half of our national parks. Our national parks and monuments unite all Americans by protecting our shared American heritage for future generations to enjoy.
The radical changes imagined by HR 3990 are a rejection of the spirit and original intent of the law. Had this bill been passed in 1906, our most iconic parks and monuments including the Grand Canyon, Olympic, Zion, Bryce, Acadia, Arches, Grand Teton, Muir Woods and countless others would not have been protected in the first place. In fact, while the new establishment criteria in H.R. 3990 is frustratingly vague, analysis demonstrates that over 70% of all previous national monuments established would not have been eligible for protection under the text of H.R. 3990. Do not be fooled, this is not a minor change to update the law, it’s an attempt to rewrite and undermine the conservation and legal history of our nation.
The diversity of historic, cultural, and natural treasures that have been protected by the Antiquities Act is the reason why hundreds of groups representing sportsmen, cultural heritage organizations, evangelicals, conservation, recreation businesses, historic preservation, and many others all oppose efforts to undermine this vital law or to roll back protections for existing national monuments. In response to other bills – which allowed much more time for the public to review prior to advancing to a vote – over 200 organizations signed on in opposition to changes to the Antiquities Act in January and over 450 organizations signed on in opposition to changes being proposed by Executive Order 13792 in May.
The American people, including the millions of members we represent, overwhelmingly oppose efforts to block establishment of new parks and repeal protections for the places they love. A record number of comments, more than 2.8 million, were submitted in response to the National Monuments Review with over 99% opposing changes to national monuments. Previous polls by Colorado College’s Conservation in the West Poll, have found that 80% of western voters support “future presidents continuing to protect existing public lands as national monuments.” These polls reinforce other surveys that document widespread public opposition to congressional attacks on new parks. Rather than advancing a radical anti-public lands and oceans agenda to gut bedrock conservation laws, Congress and the Trump Administration should work towards better protecting our national treasures, not attack the laws that allow us to protect them.
The only thing we can agree with in this bill is that it acknowledges the interpretation of legal experts – that the President lacks the authority to rollback protections for existing national monuments. The inclusion of section (j) makes clear that the President doesn’t yet have the authority to reduce a national monument.
We wholeheartedly oppose this radical, unnecessary and unpopular bill. While the bill is irredeemable, provisions of particular concern include:
- Drastically narrowing the definition of what is deserving of protection to focus on fossils, skeletons, artifacts and buildings (ruling out considerations for science, geography, wildlife and other natural objects) – this would have ruled out protections for the majority of previous national monuments including the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion and dozens of others. (amendment to subsection a and subsection n)
- Putting arbitrary acreage caps on the size of monuments – regardless of the scope of the resources worthy of protection. (subsections e, f, g and h)
- Prohibiting national monuments to protect oceans (subsection n)
- Giving Presidents the authority to erase vast portions of existing national monuments (an authority the President does not currently have) – Making it easier to rollback protections than to add them to public lands. The bill takes away the president’s authority to protect our iconic lands but allows him to erase those that other presidents have protected. (subsection j)
- Arbitrarily limiting the location of national monuments without respect to where cultural and natural resources are located – regardless of the locations of objects worth protecting, the bill would prohibit monuments within 50 miles of existing national monuments that may have been designated decades or a century beforehand for entirely different reasons (subsections e, f, g, h)
- Requiring local communities and federal workers to engage in an ironic exercise of wasted time and money to review the environmental impacts of protecting lands for future generations – at a time when the committee is working to dramatically undermine the NEPA process for development on public lands, this seems particularly cynical. (subsections f, g, h)
- Allowing a single private property owner to veto the designation of a national monument on public lands – National Monument designations do not change the uses allowed on private lands nor allow for eminent domain, and allowing a single private property owner to block a federal land use decision would make public land management nearly impossible.
Our organizations and the diverse array of members and interests we represent are united in our support for the Antiquities Act and our national parks and monuments. These public lands and waters are our uniquely American heritage and we stand with the overwhelming majority of our fellow Americans in defending them from efforts to block new parks and repeal protections for existing parks and monuments. We urge you to stand with our national parks and monuments and OPPOSE HR 3990 and all other attempts to block new parks and repeal protections for existing national monuments.
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Former Deputy Vice President, Government Affairs