Montana's Congressman, Denny Rehberg, today sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to commit to not designating new national monuments in Montana at the end of his first term. Rehberg and the U.S. House had included bipartisan language requiring state approval of new National Monuments in the Sportsmen's Heritage Act which passed the House in April. Senator Jon Tester sponsored the legislation in the Senate, and quietly removed this important provision.
"An unexpected and unwanted National Monument designation will hurt everyone from Montanan's farmers and ranchers to hunters and anglers," said Rehberg. "I'm disappointed the Senate secretly removed a provision to protect Montana from this sort of land grab, and I'm asking President Obama to do the right thing by promising not to abuse the Antiquities Act by designating new Montana monuments during his first term."
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Senator Tester have both assured Montanans that they have no plans for new National Monument designations. However, as Rehberg points out in his letter, the actual designation of National Monuments using the authority of the Antiquities Act lies with President Obama who, to date, has made no assurances of his plans.
In light of the lame-duck designation of National Monuments by President Bill Clinton, including the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, Rehberg worked with colleagues in the House to include language assuring state participation in new designations. The following language was offered as an Amendment to the Sportsman's Heritage Act by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC). It was adopted with bipartisan support by a vote of 223-198.
SEC. 601. DESIGNATION OF AND RESTRICTIONS ON NATIONAL MONUMENTS. (a) Designation- No national monument designated by presidential proclamation shall be valid until the Governor and the legislature of each State within the boundaries of the proposed national monument have approved of such designation. (b) Restrictions- The Secretary of the Interior shall not implement any restrictions on the public use of a national monument until the expiration of an appropriate review period (determined by the Secretary of the Interior) providing for public input.
Unfortunately this common-sense language was stripped out behind closed doors by the bill's sponsor, Senator Tester. It was not included in the final package scheduled for a vote in the Senate.
As a result, Montanans remain dangerously vulnerable to another lame duck monument designation by President Obama. This prompted Rehberg to ask the President for his commitment not to designate any new monuments during his first term as President.
The full letter is below:
Dear President Obama,
I'm writing you on behalf of the great state of Montana to ask for your unequivocal promise not to misuse the authority granted under the Antiquities Act to designate any new National Monuments in Montana at the end of your first term in office.
As you know, the Antiquities Act was passed in 1906. As the name suggests, it was meant to preserve antiques, especially Native American ruins, from looters. It was primarily supported by the Archaeological Institute of America, the American Anthropological Association and the Smithsonian Institution. It was never intended to circumvent Congress and designate huge tracts of land as National Monuments. In fact, this question was directly considered during the debate on June 5, 1906, when Mr. Stephens of Texas asked on the House floor if the Antiquities Act could be used to tie up large parcels of land. The bill's sponsor assured him: "Certainly not. The object is entirely different. It is to preserve these old objects of special interest and the Indian remains in the pueblos in the Southwest."
Despite this, in final hours of his presidency, on January 18, 2001, President Bill Clinton created the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. Overnight, tens of thousands of acres in Montana were locked up. Similar designations were made across the West. He had promised an open, transparent process with plenty of public input, but when his chosen successor Al Gore lost the election, those promises were abandoned in favor of unilateral, unpopular executive action.
Montanans are rightfully concerned about a similar last-minute designation from your Administration. These concerns have been justified by internal Department of Interior documents which revealed your Administration is considering using this law to create as many as 14 new National Monument designations in the West. Specifically, the leaked portion of the memo identified 2.5 million acres of land in Montana to be set aside as a National Monument.
When pressured by swelling public opposition, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar assured us that his agency had no plans to designate new National Monuments. Montana's own Senator Tester, who had campaigned with Secretary Salazar in 2006, assured Montanans that there were no plans for a new National Monument in Montana.
But there are two problems with these empty promises.
First, the designation of a national monument through the authority of the Antiquities Act is done by Presidential decree, not agency action. While assurances from Secretary Salazar carry no weight of law, it simply wouldn't matter if they did. It's not up to Secretary Salazar or those of the Department of Interior to designate national monuments. The only person whose promises matter is you.
Second, your Administration is sending disturbing mixed signals. On one hand, Secretary Salazar and Senator Tester have assured Montanans that there are no plans for new monument designations under the Antiquities Act. On the other hand, your Administration is moving forward with public meetings about new designations in Montana. If there are not in fact plans, as we are told, then why is your Administration hosting information-gathering meetings in Malta, Helena, Bozeman, Missoula, and Ovando?
I am therefore asking for an assurance, without reservations or qualifications, that you will not invoke the Antiquities Act to designate any new national monuments in Montana during your first term as President.
Thank you for your consideration,
Denny Rehberg Member of Congress