The politics of doing and undoing a national monument

Apr 17, 2019, 4:49 PM | Updated: 5:01 pm
File: Secretary Zinke at Bears Ears National Monument...
FILE - In this May 9, 2017, file photo, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a horse in the then-new Bears Ears National Monument near Blanding, Utah. (Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News via AP, File)
(Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News via AP, File)

Disclaimer: the following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of KSL Newsradio or its ownership.

Before her campaign stop on Wednesday in Salt Lake City, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren vowed that as president she would restore the 2 million acres President Trump stripped from the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments in 2017.

In the proposal posted Monday to the website, Warren called Trump’s reversal “the single biggest rollback of protected lands in U.S. history.”

The Antiquities Act of 1906 allows the U.S. president to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest.” The aim was to protect all historic and prehistoric sites on U.S. federal lands and to prohibit excavation or destruction of these antiquities. There was a time when these designations were respected from president to president. But it should be pretty obvious that today the designation of public lands has become too politicized — it’s time to fix it.

Fumbling the Political Football

President Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument, then President Trump made his own order to reduce the size of the national monument (as well as Grand Staircase), and now Sen. Warren, if she becomes commander in chief, vows to undo Trump’s action. Change political parties in the White House, change public-lands designations.

Ahhh! This is madness and needs to stop. But how?

Of course, the answer is it’s not going to end until the power is returned to Congress, where the Constitution mandates that all legislative powers reside. The president should not have the sole discretion to name protected public lands. This power runs counter to the checks and balances and representation of legislators that the United States was originally set up to prevent.

We’re seeing this now with the rampant use of executive orders. Moving from one president to the next is causing turmoil because it’s so easy to reverse these orders.

Having legislative bodies controlling these public-lands designations enshrines them and makes them much harder to reverse. This means you have to win by means of public opinion and have to get people on your side.

I’m calling on the United States Congress to stand up and take this power back. But this has to be done with a veto-proof majority vote because why would any president give up this power just like that?

Congress handed the power to the president, and you didn’t have this back and forth before, but now we have a problem of reversal ad infinitum. Congress needs to take this power back to where it belongs because this is only going to get worse.

The Antiquities Act bestows too much power onto the president. It needs to be restructured with the proper check and balances and the voices of the representatives from the states affected by these presidential designations. This game of presidential ping-pong must end.

Jay Mcfarland hosts the JayMac News Show, weekdays from 12:30 to 3 p.m. on KSL Newsradio, as well as the fictional podcast, Hosts of Eden. KSL Newsradio is part of Bonneville Media and based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Don’t forget to review and subscribe to the JayMac News Show podcast on Apple Podcasts. Or follow Jay on Twitter and Instagram or on Facebook.

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The politics of doing and undoing a national monument