House votes to revoke the executive's unilateral national monument authority

It would be easy to interpret this bill as just another spiteful, obstructionist, hostage-taking move from a Republican-controlled Congress that wants so badly to do anything and everything to get in the way of President Obama that they don’t even care how small and petty they have to get anymore… but that would be inane. For people who actually care about the environmental health of the American landscape and want to protect it from politicized profiteering, this should be a pretty heartening move, regardless of who’s passing it and the administration it currently affects. Via The Hill:

Members passed H.R. 1459, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act, in a 222-201 vote. Democrats cast the bill as an anti-environmental measure, and only three Democrats supported it — ten Republicans opposed it.

The bill would amend the 1906 Antiquities Act, which today gives the President the ability to designate monuments without any public process or environmental review. Republicans said this power is too broad, and can too easily transfer state land to the federal government.

The textbook example cited by Republicans is the 1996 decision by President Clinton to designate nearly two million acres of land in Utah as a national monument. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) said Clinton’s decision to  create the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was made without any advance notice, and was announced by Clinton during a pre-election tour of the west. …

The legislation would add new requirements under the Antiquities Act to require presidential designations to undergo reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It would also limit presidential designations to one per state in a four-year term.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), said the 1906 law was originally intended to allow the government to quickly protect sensitive environmental land. But he said it needs updating to take into account state-wide interests.

Think about it. Why is it taken as environmentalist gospel that adding more lands and monuments to the already overwhelmed federal estate, which covers almost a third of the United States’ surface area and doomed to suffer through big government’s bureaucratic inefficiencies and delays, is necessarily a good thing that automatically equates with “conservation”? Why would we want to add the responsibility of stewarding more land to the deferred maintenance backlog that is already billions of dollars in the hole? So the ruling administration can make all sorts of ideology-based designations about how that land can be used from the top-down, or deliberately use it to score political points during, say, a government shutdown?

No, which is why this legislation really shouldn’t about President Obama at all (although he did, by the way, add 1,665 acres of federal land to the California Coastal National Monument just earlier this month, so). I don’t want a president of any political stripe wielding the ability to unilaterally set land aside because it feels good, or because it looks good politically — although, unfortunately, this is probably nothing doing in the Senate for now.