The Obama administration is looking into bypassing Congress to designate millions of Western acres as national monuments, according to an internal document obtained by House Republicans and released to the press.
The draft document -- labeled "NOT FOR RELEASE" -- identifies 14 sites for new or expanded national monument designations under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which would allow the administration to make the designations without congressional approval.
The document, which calls for future evaluations of public and congressional support for the potential designations, reflects "brainstorming discussions" within the Interior Department and is not indicative of any definitive plans, said Kendra Barkoff, spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
"No decisions have been made about which areas, if any, might merit more serious review and consideration," Barkoff said. "Secretary Salazar believes new designations and conservation initiatives work best when they build on local efforts to better manage places that are important to nearby communities."
Top Republicans on the House Natural Resource Committee say the designations would be a misuse of the Antiquities Act.
The designations would bypass local consent in favor of "secret insider dealings," Reps. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said today in a letter to President Obama.
The letter from Bishop and Hastings asks Obama to make any new designations as small as possible and to do so with maximum transparency.
The Antiquities Act was meant to protect a specific resource on a maximum of a few hundred acres from specific, imminent threats, Bishop said.
Republican committee staff declined to say how they obtained the document, other than that it came from a "reliable source."
The document mentions 14 potential monument designations or expansions in 9 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
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.
The suggestion of new conservation designations enraged Alaska Rep. Don Young (R). "The arrogance of the administration is fully on display in yet another ploy to make Alaska the nation's largest national park," he said. "If this administration thinks they can use underhanded tactics to ensure that the land is kept 'pristine' enough for their biggest fundraisers to go hiking and mountain biking, they better think again."
Click here to view the Interior document.
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