Roughly a week ago I dug into President Trump’s latest Executive Order involving the designation of National Monuments and parks. At the time I concluded that the entire process needs to be handed back to the control of Congress because too many presidents have abused the powers granted by the 1906 Antiquities Act, ignoring its instructions to keep such land grabs to the smallest footprint required to preserve specific things. I was relieved to see that the new Secretary of the Interior reflected many of the same concerns when he later addressed the matter.
None of those pesky facts about the law seem to have sunk in at the editorial board of the Washington Post. This week they decided to come out with another broadside against the President and in defense of the massive land grabs carried out by previous presidents of both parties under the auspices of that legislation. Showing a complete lack of self-awareness, they first cite the specific language of the act which states that the President should designate the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected. They then follow that up by offering this as a defense of Obama’s most recent land seizures:
In fact, recent presidents have used the Antiquities Act ambitiously , but, for the most part, not in unprecedented ways. From the start, presidents used the act to preserve huge tracts of land. Teddy Roosevelt designated the Grand Canyon, at more than 800,000 acres, as a national monument. Franklin D. Roosevelt vastly expanded protected zones in the Grand Tetons . Jimmy Carter created the largest land-based national monument, 10.95 million acres in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Monument…
Mr. Obama created more large monuments than any of his predecessors. He and President George W. Bush each set aside hundreds of millions acres, but their largest by far preserved big portions of Pacific Ocean habitat, which do not seem to be the object of Trump administration scrutiny.
This is tone deaf to an extraordinary degree. Showing how several previous presidents did something which is directly contrary to the stated purpose of the Antiquities Act does not mean that the practice should continue or that the previous acquisitions shouldn’t be under review. Just because Carter, Bush 43 and Obama did something incorrectly, that precedent doesn’t make it any better. As far as the debate about Teddy Roosevelt goes, one can at least argue that the Grand Canyon is “a thing.” Granted, it’s a gargantuan thing and it should probably be a national park rather than a monument also, but it’s still a thing.
Because of the hazy, vague nature of natural formations (as opposed to buildings or other structures created by man) in terms of their size, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to rewrite the Antiquities Act to check the President’s power. With that in mind, I remain of the opinion that all of the current large tracts of land encompassing multiple types of terrain should be reevaluated by Congress, with appropriate “things” receiving the designation of monuments and the legislature voting on how much of the rest of the land should be turned over to the National Park Service, with the remainder being returned to the states. Each of them can best decide how much of that land should be protected, developed or opened up to private use.