Wednesday, July 05, 2017

EDITORIAL: Donald Trump and the Antiquities Act

Donald Trump’s interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, will be in Nevada later this month to tour two new national monuments, Gold Butte and Basin and Range. That’s a welcome departure from the previous administration, which simply waved a magic wand from 2,400 miles away to restrict land use across wide swaths of the state.

The president has vowed to roll back a number of designations Barack Obama made under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which could affect the two new Nevada monuments. Mr. Zinke recently recommended that one such recent designation in Utah — Bears Ears — be downsized from its current 2,000 square miles.

Environmentalists will no doubt fight the decision in court. Expect a similar response if Mr. Zinke makes changes at Gold Butte or Basin and Range.

The Associated Press reported over the weekend that other presidents have previously made adjustments to monument boundaries — 18 times according to the National Park Service. Nevertheless, “environmentalist groups and others gearing for a fight” say the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act restricts a president’s right to narrow the scope of a national monument.

The courts will eventually have the final say. But all this legal wrangling simply offers another reason for repealing the Antiquities Act. Major decisions about federal land designations should be in the hands of legislative branch, not the purview of an imperial president or the bureaucracy.

If members of Congress or the president seek to create a new national monument, let lawmakers hold hearings and cast votes. The same process should apply for any subsequent movement to tinker with or eliminate such designations. That’s called representative democracy.

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