To mark the one year anniversary of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, along with four other monuments, the House will vote to severely limit President Obama's ability to created national monuments. The bill won't become law, but it'll get the message across: House Republicans don't like the president's "pen and phone" philosophy. Or you can't drill for oil in national monuments.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president the right to create national monuments — protected lands that receive less money and fewer wilderness protections than parks — without Congress. As Think Progress points out, the Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act, which Congress will vote on next week, would limit the president to one monument per state per term, and require a Congressional review of each new monument's environmental impact.
The Monuments Act, first brought up a month after the president's five monument spree in March 2013, isn't likely to pass, but it's a statement on the president's renewed focus on conservation. Earlier this month the president created a new monument in California, skipping over an identical proposal that was working through Congress according to The Washington Post. House Republicans complained that Obama was once again working around the legislature, as Rep. Rob Bishop, the sponsor of the Monuments Act, made clear last week:
[T]he House was punked by the President. ... There was broad support for the measure. The President seems to view the legislative process as relevant only when it is politically convenient.
That's a reference to the theme that emerged around the time of the State of the Union that Obama was acting more like a king than a president. In the speech, he promised to “use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.” As The Post notes, new Obama advisor John D. Podesta — who advised Clinton on conservation — has been pushing the administration to designate more monuments.
But the more land that's protected, the less land there is for drilling oil. Sen. Mike Lee said as much in a press release last June after the president's monument spree last year. "Far-left environmental groups are urging the White House to designate more land as national monuments, not for the purposes of protecting important historical areas, but to prevent oil and gas production on the land and to boost the re-election efforts of Democratic senators," read the release. And he had a point. The Sierra Club actively played up the "stopping drilling is good for Democrats" angle. “We think there’s real opportunities for (the administration) to do additional monument designations by the midterm elections and that it’s a positive political thing for the administration and for senators and congressmen,” a Sierra Club official told The Hill the same month.
Republicans have opposed the Antiquities Act for a while. In 1999, The New York Times wrote that "leading Republicans in Congress strongly object to monument declarations as an inappropriate use of the Antiquities Act of 1906 and an end run around Congress." Democratic presidents, predictably, exercise the power more frequently.
- Jimmy Carter: 11 parks, 4 monuments
- Ronald Reagan: 2 parks, 4 monuments
- George H.W. Bush: 1 park, 2 monuments
- Bill Clinton: 5 parks, 20 monuments
- George W. Bush: 2 parks, 6 monuments
- Barack Obama: 1 park, 11 monuments
Clinton had his own Republican House critic. Rep. James Hansen sponsored legislation to limit the president's power over federal lands, according to The Times. "Democracy isn't always pretty,'' Hansen said at the time. ''But I think we can all agree that it is a lot better than having a king dictate everything from the White House." Obviously, not much has changed.