WASHINGTON – The Obama administration’s declaration that they intend to bypass Congress and the public to designate new national monuments is expected to create problems that would unduly affect the success of the conservative efforts.
“If you don’t have that collaborative process up front, you can create conflict that is very counterproductive,” said former Interior Secretary Gale Norton in an interview this week after a meeting of the Conservation Leadership Council, a group she helped create to address environmental and energy issues.
“I think it’s important to have a process where the people affected can be involved,” Norton said. “That includes Congress playing a role.”
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the strategy during a speech last week, which she said would prevent future energy development including oil, gas, and mining on public lands.
“If Congress doesn’t step up to act to protect some of these important places that have been identified by communities and people throughout the country, then the president will take action,” Jewell said at the National Press Club speech.
“There’s no question that if Congress doesn’t act, we will,” Jewell said.
According to a senior Capitol Hill staffer, some of the targets under discussion in the Obama administration are located in Utah and New Mexico.
In addition, Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall has proposed creating the Browns Canyon National Park that would designate 22,000 acres of land as a monument and an additional 10,000 acres as a new wilderness area in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.
The president has the authority to designate national monuments without congressional approval under the Antiquities Act of 1906, an action that has created controversy especially during the Clinton administration when the Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah was created without local input.
Norton said that when she was secretary of the Interior Department during the Bush administration, monument designation was considered but that it was a collaborative process that included the input of local officials as well as Congress.
“That can be very disruptive if you don’t have the support of the people in the local communities,” Norton said.
“And if you don’t have Congress involved, you don’t have funding,” Norton said.
The administration’s announcement came just days before Sen. Tom Coburn, released a new report that revealed the National Park Service spends nearly $530 million every year to purchase more private land to add to the Interior Department’s inventory.
With the federal government’s debt topping $17 trillion, the Oklahoma Republican said the agency should focus its funding priorities on the monuments and parks already in the system.