PUBLIC LANDS:

House Republicans demand documents in monument controversy

Sixteen House Republicans are asking the Interior Department to provide more information related to a leaked document that identified 14 sites as candidates for new or expanded national monument designation.

The Western lawmakers' request comes after an internal Interior document obtained by the House GOP and released to the press last week identified sites for potential designation under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which would allow the Obama administration to make the designations without congressional approval.

The information requested by March 26 includes all pages of the internal draft, since the lawmakers only have pages numbered 15 to 21, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and House Natural Resources ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

They also asked for all documents and communications regarding the Interior initiative to compile the list of potential designations, including those related to any meetings about potential national monument designations.

"Left unanswered at this point are many questions about the status of potential National Monument designations, what groups and individuals are or were involved in this endeavor, and the extent to which the process will continue to be carried out behind closed doors," they wrote.

They also said they "take a degree of comfort" in Salazar's statements promising a public dialogue and no surprise announcements.

"While Secretary Salazar says that the discussions are just 'preliminary,' no assurances have been given that the President will not designate these monuments," Hastings said in a statement. "When you catch someone in the kitchen in the dark of night with their hand in the cookie jar, it's very hard to believe they're just checking to see what's inside and that no cookies were just about to get eaten."

An Interior spokeswoman said the department is reviewing the request.

Salazar said earlier this week that his department has no secret plans to bypass Congress and designate millions of Western acres as national monuments (E&ENews PM, Feb. 22).

"We have no secret agenda," Salazar told E&E. "We want to work with hunters and anglers, local governments, the governors and the Congress as we figure out how we're going to move forward with respect to using and protecting the great outdoors of America."

The document mentions 14 potential monument designations or expansions in nine states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington. It says the areas may be good candidates for national monument designation but that further evaluations should be completed prior to any final decision, including an assessment of public and congressional support.

Republicans estimated the new designations could cover up to 13 million acres.

The draft also mentions three tracts of land in Alaska and Wyoming -- states where the president's Antiquities Act authority is limited -- for potential non-monument conservation designations. It includes Alaska's Bristol Bay region, where environmental groups and salmon fishers have battled proposed energy and mineral development.

Click here to read the letter.

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