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National Monuments Revamp Gets House Panel OK

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U.S. Department of Interior
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited the Grand Staircase National Monument in southern Utah in May. A bill by Utah GOP Congressman Rob Bishop would overhaul the law that led to the creation of Grand Staircase 21 years ago.

Republicans and Democrats began wrangling over national monuments Wednesday in the form of a bill by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

Bishop, who’s chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, has made no secret of wanting to overhaul the Antiquities Act. That’s the law that presidents have relied on for over a century to create the monuments that ultimately became Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. But Republicans say Democratic presidents have abused the law in designating some national monuments, like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah.

Bishop told the committee reviewing his bill Wednesday that the Antiquities Act needs to be reformed.

“Congress never intended,” he said, “to give one individual the power to unilaterally dictate the manner in which all Americans may enjoy enormous swaths of America’s public lands – federal public lands.”

Committee Republicans backed Bishop’s bill, which gives Congress and the public a voice in deciding. But the legislation also limits monument sizes. And it blocks monument designations for natural features, like the monument that became the Grand Canyon.

Conservation and sportsmen’s groups have said Bishop’s bill would gut the Antiquities Act. And, at Wednesday’s hearing, Democrats like Raul Grijalva of Arizona said Americans don’t want changes.

“It’s now clear that President Trump does not have the authority to destroy Bears Ears or the Grand Staircase or any existing national monument,” said Grijalva, who was preparing to argue for his own measure to make the administration share documents about its national monument review. “In general, this legislation, quite frankly, is – remains a solution in search of a problem.”

The Natural Resources Committee passed the bill, 23 to 17. Now the full House is free to take up the legislation, although there is no word on if and when that might happen.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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