Policy Update Mar 19, 2024

NPCA position on H.R. 5499 – Congressional Oversight of the Antiquities Act

NPCA sent the following position to Members of the House Natural Resources Federal Lands Subcommittee ahead of a hearing scheduled for March 20th, 2024. 

H.R. 5499 - Congressional Oversight of the Antiquities Act: NPCA is opposed to this legislation, which would fundamentally undermine the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Antiquities Act is one of our nation’s most important conservation laws; it allows the president of the United States to proclaim lands or waters under federal jurisdiction as national monuments to maintain the integrity of natural and cultural resources. Used to safeguard and preserve federal lands and historical sites for all Americans to enjoy, 18 presidents representing both political parties, have used this authority to designate 163 national monuments. This accounts for about one-quarter of the current sites within the National Park System. Congress has the power to designate a national park or historic site. Congress can also re-designate a presidentially proclaimed monument to become a national park, as it has done with parks like the Grand Canyon and Acadia.

The Antiquities Act was passed by Congress with the understanding that some nationally significant sites need urgent protection and should not be subject to the lengthy path a bill can take. What was true for the 59th Congress in 1906 is still true today: Congress can be too inactive to act expeditiously and protect cultural or natural resources. For example, Congress had four terms where it could have designated the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park. Bipartisan and bicameral legislation sat for years in committee with no substantive action. It took a designation through the Antiquities Act to ensure the first site was designated which later prompted Congress to act.

H.R. 5499 would mandate that any site designated by the Antiquities Act would require Congressional approval within six months, or the end of the current congress, or else the designation would be nullified. In effect, Congress would only have to be inactive to strip a newly designated site of its protections. Congress simply should not be the sole guarantor of protecting America’s natural and cultural heritage.

H.R. 5499 further undermines the intent of the Antiquities Act by mandating that any sites that do not get Congressional approval as monuments may not be included in any future monument designation for 25 years. The very point of the Antiquities Act is allowing a branch of the federal government to move quickly to protect resources that are under direct threat. H.R. 5499 creates an arbitrary timeline that stipulates irreplaceable resources or significant historical sites be potentially unprotected for a quarter century.

Both Presidents Trump and Biden recently used the Antiquities Act to preserve historically significant sites, designating Camp Nelson and the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monuments respectively. These sites, which both could have been protected by Congress and were not, allow Americans to learn about our diverse national history. President Obama protected Harriet Tubman National Historical Park (formerly national monument) while President George W. Bush designated the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. For the last 118 years presidents, regardless of political party, have chosen to protect American cultural and natural resources for the betterment of all. From the Statue of Liberty to Zion National Park, the Antiquities Act has been used to guarantee our most treasured places can be enjoyed and learned from for generations to come. The protection and interpretation of these sites represents the very best of American values. H.R. 5499 critically endangers that shared interest and we urge Congress to reconsider this damaging legislation.

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