(Congressman Dean Heller) – Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, any U.S. President at any time can bypass Congress to establish new or expand existing national monuments. President Bill Clinton created 19 new and 3 enlarged monuments comprising approximately 5.9 million acres of land during his term in office. Only President Jimmy Carter created more monument acreage at 56 million acres in Alaska.
Legislation that was originally enacted to protect small areas of land in imminent danger of destruction has become a backdoor for closing off public lands.
Recently, an internal U.S. Department of the Interior document revealed that two areas within Nevada are under consideration for national monument designations: 1) the Heart of the Great Basin, which would include the Toiyabe, Toquima, and Monitor peaks in Lander, Eureka, and Nye Counties; and 2) the Owyhee Desert, which would affect Elko and Humboldt Counties. According to the document as many as 13 million acres of land throughout the west are at risk for potential designation and it suggests possibly hundreds of millions of dollars in federal land acquisition funds.
Any federal action that could lead to limited access should be done in an open and public manner using extraordinary caution. The Nevada delegation has historically worked together on federal land legislation in an open and transparent process that allows local stakeholders the important opportunity to provide input and help craft final legislation. For this reason, I have introduced legislation that would limit the President’s authority from establishing national monuments in Nevada without congressional authorization. Currently only Wyoming enjoys this exemption from the Act.
Because Nevada is approximately 85% federally controlled, I am particularly sensitive to any actions that could close access to public lands. Public input and local support is critical to the decision-making process when changing federal land designations. As most Nevadans would agree, a transparent public process that includes input from local officials, communities, and stakeholders for any new federal land designations is in the best interest of the residents of our great state. A new national monument under the Antiquities Act could limit access, threaten grazing rights, and end mineral exploration and mining, and even impact private property.
Stakeholders, residents, and local officials should have ample opportunity to provide their input and opinions on the proposal—as well as to evaluate what the impact on local economies would be in the wake of a designation. The fact that this Administration is already circulating internal memos to bypass Congress and the public process is troubling. There should never be a rush to develop proposals that will have long lasting impacts on the local communities and county residents. The Administration should work closely with members of Congress and have public hearings before deciding to designate any national monuments.
As a lifelong Nevadan and outdoorsman, I support access to federal lands and believe that any decision to change use designations should be thoroughly studied. Public input and local support is critical to the decision-making process when changing federal land designations. If a portion of land is truly deserving of protection, then proponents of a national monument, or any other designation, should have nothing to fear from a public process.
(Rep. Heller represents Nevadan’s Second Congressional District)