NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

U.S. House passes ill-conceived bill to gut the Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to designate national monuments

Act­ing as if they don’t have any­thing bet­ter to do (and they cer­tain­ly do!) the Repub­li­can “lead­er­ship” in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives today engi­neered a vote on a bill that would gut the Antiq­ui­ties Act, leg­is­la­tion dat­ing back the ear­ly 1900s that allows pres­i­dents to des­ig­nate nation­al mon­u­ments.

As Ken Burns and his team explained in his won­der­ful doc­u­men­tary series The Nation­al Parks: Amer­i­ca’s Best Idea, the Antiq­ui­ties Act, enact­ed dur­ing the ear­ly years of the Pro­gres­sive Era, has been a great bless­ing to our coun­try.

Pres­i­dents from Ted­dy Roo­sevelt to Barack Oba­ma have used it to safe­guard a num­ber of nation­al trea­sures, includ­ing sev­er­al here in Wash­ing­ton State.

But the mod­ern Repub­li­can Par­ty unfor­tu­nate­ly does­n’t believe in con­ser­va­tion or wilder­ness pro­tec­tion. There seem to be few­er and few­er Repub­li­cans inter­est­ed in pre­serv­ing the majesty and grandeur of Amer­i­ca (what’s left of it, any­way) for future gen­er­a­tions. Repub­li­cans would rather blow up our moun­tains, cut down our forests, pave over our prairies, and muti­late our coast­lines. It’s real­ly sad.

Repub­li­cans clear­ly don’t want Pres­i­dent Oba­ma des­ig­nat­ing any more nation­al mon­u­ments. The Pres­i­dent used his pow­ers under the Antiq­ui­ties Act spar­ing­ly dur­ing his first term, but under Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Sal­ly Jew­ell, for­mer­ly of REI, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion has sig­naled that it plans to make pro­tect­ing more of the nation’s pub­lic lands a pri­or­i­ty. That has got House Repub­li­cans all upset.

Over two hun­dred Repub­li­cans (and, I’m sad to report, three Democ­rats) vot­ed in favor of H.R. 1459, titled, “To ensure that the Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act of 1969 applies to the dec­la­ra­tion of nation­al mon­u­ments, and for oth­er pur­pos­es”. The final vote was two hun­dred and twen­ty-two to two hun­dred and one.

Ten Repub­li­cans broke with their cau­cus to vote no, includ­ing Dave Reichert of Wash­ing­ton. The roll call vote for the Pacif­ic North­west as fol­lows:

Vot­ing Aye: Repub­li­cans Doc Hast­ings, Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers, Jaime Her­rera-Beut­ler (WA), Greg Walden (OR), Don Young (AK) Labrador and Mike Simp­son (ID), Steve Daines (MT)

Vot­ing Nay: Democ­rats Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Jim McDer­mott, Adam Smith, Den­ny Heck (WA), Suzanne Bonam­i­ci, Earl Blu­me­nauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrad­er (OR); Repub­li­can Dave Reichert (WA)

Not Vot­ing: Demo­c­rat Suzan Del­Bene (Del­Bene is here in Wash­ing­ton due to the mud­slide in Oso, which is part of her dis­trict)

Excerpt for Reichert, our region vot­ed along par­ty lines. The three Democ­rats who vot­ed with the Repub­li­cans for the bill were Jim Math­e­son of Utah, Hen­ry Cuel­lar of Texas, and Mike McIn­tyre of North Car­oli­na.

Many Democ­rats exco­ri­at­ed the leg­is­la­tion, which basi­cal­ly restricts the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States to des­ig­nat­ing one nation­al mon­u­ment per four-year term.

“We shouldn’t play games with Washington’s pro­tect­ed pub­lic lands,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Den­ny Heck. “Both Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can pres­i­dents have used this law to pre­serve some of the most beau­ti­ful sites in our state and coun­try, and this bill would need­less­ly com­pli­cate the process.”

Among those places are the Olympics. Although Olympic is today a Nation­al Park, it was first des­ig­nat­ed a Nation­al Mon­u­ment by Theodore Roo­sevelt in 1909. It was upgrad­ed to a Nation­al Park under Pres­i­dent Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt in 1938. In 1981 it was rec­og­nized as a World Her­itage site. Some nine­ty-five per­cent of the park was sub­se­quent­ly giv­en wilder­ness pro­tec­tion by Con­gress in 1988.

Had the Olympics not been pro­tect­ed by Ted­dy Roo­sevelt, we would not be able to enjoy them as we do today. Many of the oth­er nation­al parks that we know and love also began as nation­al mon­u­ments, such as the Grand Canyon… a place so impor­tant to Ari­zon­a’s iden­ti­ty that it calls itself “the Grand Canyon State”.

H.R. 1459 is yet anoth­er time-wast­ing bill. Even if it were to get through the Sen­ate (and it won’t), it would be vetoed by Pres­i­dent Oba­ma. This is ill-con­ceived leg­is­la­tion that seems to have been designed to allow Repub­li­cans to pan­der to their base… which is about all that they ever real­ly do.

The 2010s era House Repub­li­can Cau­cus eas­i­ly ranks among the worst in Amer­i­can his­to­ry when it comes to gov­ern­ing, let alone gov­ern­ing well.

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