The law has been used by presidents of both parties, but that doesn't mean Congress shouldn't have greater oversight, said U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador.
"Bad policy is bad policy whether enacted by a Republican or a Democrat," the Idaho Republican told a House Resources subcommittee Tuesday.
"I oppose the imposition of any federal lockup of Idaho federal land without congressional oversight. I oppose Republicans on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I oppose Republicans on the Patriot Act, and I would oppose a Republican's efforts to lock up land in Idaho under the Antiquities Act."
Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt have used the 1906 law to protect as national monuments places such as the Grand Canyon and Craters of the Moon for their cultural, historic and natural values.
Labrador has reintroduced his bill that would require a president to get congressional approval before creating a monument. The subcommittee heard testimony on a number of bills to limit a president's discretion.
The hearing came days after the Statesman reported on Interior Department documents that showed then-Secretary Dirk Kempthorne had drafted proclamations in 2008 for President George W. Bush that would have created national monuments in Central Idaho's Boulder-White Cloud Mountains and the Island Park Caldera around Mesa Falls in eastern Idaho.
LOCAL SUPPORT CRITICAL
Kempthorne backed off in 2008 when he realized there wasn't time for the kind of public involvement that nearly everyone who testified Tuesday agreed is needed before a monument is created.
Supporters of the act say such public input is necessary because, in many cases, congressional committees bottle up monument proposals with broad local support, such as the San Juan Islands in Washington and Fort Monroe in Virginia. Those are two monuments President Barack Obama created with a stroke of his pen last month.
"Without this law, the future of Fort Monroe would still be uncertain," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.
Idaho supporters of legislation championed by U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson to protect the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains as wilderness are now turning to the Obama administration to protect the area as a national monument. And that move comes just as the Idaho Legislature has approved a resolution demanding that the federal government turn over all federal land to the state to manage.
A PAST INJUSTICE
For Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the subcommittee, President Bill Clinton's creation of the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in 1996 is Exhibit A in his case for reforming the Antiquities Act.
Clinton went to Arizona to make the designation announcement, alerting the Utah governor with a call at 2 in the morning the day of the announcement.
The area had been used for grazing and has coal resources that were off-limits once the area became a monument. Two decades later, state school lands have yet to be traded with federal lands and right-of-way issues for power lines have not been resolved, he said.
"Reform is needed to prevent mistakes of the past," Bishop said.
Clinton learned from his mistake. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt carried out an extensive public process and met with ranchers before expanding Idaho's Craters of the Moon National Monument in 2001. He backed off creating a monument for Southern Idaho's Owyhee Canyonlands because he didn't have the time to do something similar.
People who have been pushing for national monuments to be created said they are frustrated by congressional gridlock. Congress already has the power to pass a law overturning a president's designation.
"Congress has the right to reverse these decisions," said Michael Whiting, Archuleta (Colo.) County Commissioner, where Obama created the Chimney Rock National Monument in 2012. "This is a safety valve for local communities trying to accomplish something."
Labrador said national monument status can hurt tourism and local economies.
But winter visitation at Chimney Rock doubled after the designation, Whiting said Monday.
Other local officials, such as Gale Morton, a Marina, Calif., councilwoman, said they view national monuments as an economic driver.
In 2012, Obama created Fort Ord National Monument in California's Monterey County. It attracted more than 3 million visitors in a year.
"It's a reason to stay for an extra day," Morton said. "I want my city and the region to get our share of that money."
Rocky Barker: 377-6484