WASHINGTON – Several Utah congressmen have teamed up to propose a law that would require congressional approval for the creation of new national monuments.
Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah introduced the bill in the Senate, co-sponsored by Republican Senators Jim Risch of Idaho, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mitt Romney of Utah. Republican Representatives John Curtis of Utah’s 3rd District and Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa’s 1st District introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
The proposed bill, titled the Congressional Oversight of the Antiquities Act, would require congressional approval for the designation of national monuments.
The bill aims to reform the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows Presidents to designate lands of cultural and natural resources of historic or scientific interest as national monuments.
Land that is designated a national monument provides legal protection, and is exempt from drilling, logging, mining, and grazing. National monuments also tend to limit off-road vehicle use and prevent the land from being sold off.
The proposed legislation is likely in response to President Biden establishing both the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon a national monument, as well as restoring and enlarging the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments here in Utah in 2021.
Senator Romney recently claimed that President Biden’s establishment of the Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon national monument ‘continues the cycle of Antiquities Act abuse by the Executive Branch’ last month.
“The text of the Antiquities Act was clear – to protect significant archaeological and historic sites, but to do so with discretion and to ensure that the designated area was confined to the smallest size necessary for their protection,” Sen. Lee said. “Regrettably, we have seen designations that far exceed this directive, impacting millions of acres and the lives of many in the West. My bill aspires to bring clarity and balance to this process, honoring both our historic legacy and the voices of affected communities.”
The newly proposed Congressional Oversight of the Antiquities Act would require congressional approval within six months of the President’s request for a new national monument. If the new monument is not approved by Congress, the monument cannot be designated again for 25 years.
“It is abundantly clear Congress must prevent more abuses by the Antiquities Act that go against the will of impacted communities,” said Rep. John Curtis. “There is no question we can protect our public lands, but that should only be done with broad buy-in and collaboration. This legislation will ensure proper accountability and sustainability of our shared lands.”
Senators Lee and Romney have long opposed the broad designations of national monuments in Utah and Arizona, claiming the designations have real-world economic consequences that hurt local communities.
Utah ranchers previously utilized the land of both the Bears Ears and Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon national monuments for grazing. The land on the Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon monument also served as a major source of domestic uranium production.
The proposed bill has received endorsements by the American Farm Bureau Foundation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Public Lands Council, American Forest Resource Council, and Federal Forest Resource Coalition.