Time to Throw the Antiquities Act into the Recycling Bin of History

By Arnold, Ron | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, November 14, 2013 | Go to article overview

Time to Throw the Antiquities Act into the Recycling Bin of History


Arnold, Ron, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


Two words -- national monument -- conjure Images of the Lincoln Memorial or the Statue of Liberty, but probably not the Virgin Islands Coral Reef or the Alibates Flint Quarries near Amarillo, Texas.

Only one of those is not on the list of America's 103 national monuments: the Lincoln Memorial, which was authorized by Congress in 1910.

Congress has never authorized a national monument, although it has the power. Only a president of the United States has created a national monument, and did it by merely writing and signing a proclamation - a form of executive order - empowered by the controversial and politicized Antiquities Act of 1906.

Originally spurred by looting of Southwest Indian ruins for artifacts - dubbed "antiquities" by anthropologists - in such places as Colorado's Mesa Verde, Congress empowered the president to protect by proclamation, "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest," on federal lands, and to "reserve" (read "take") private property for the purpose.

At the time, nobody worried about giving the president power like a Roman emperor, to swiftly proclaim protection for government property (and coveted private property) without waiting for an unconcerned Congress to act.

Today, a lot of Americans fear and loathe that power and that law, because it has become a political weapon to devastate the fossil-fuel industry.

As an example, President Clinton unilaterally proclaimed the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, thereby depriving the energy-using public of an estimated 62 billion tons of clean-burning, low-sulfur coal, five billion barrels of oil, and four trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Clinton's decree also wiped out dozens of tax-base school land tracts of the state of Utah.

Compounding the problem, four agencies manage 101 of the monuments: the National Park Service (79), the Bureau of Land Management (19), the U.S. Forest Service (7) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (7).

Some monuments are co-managed by two agencies, so overlap complicates dealing with them. Two other agencies co-manage one monument each.

The Antiquities Act is a poster child for mission creep, that contagious federal "we-want-more" disease. We have 22 national monuments associated with Native American sites, 28 with historic sites and 57 with nature sites. …

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Time to Throw the Antiquities Act into the Recycling Bin of History
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