John Jones (not wearing hat) speaks on behalf of the National Association of Counties at Tuesday's hearing on the Antiquities Act.
The specter of a Clinton-like designation of more lands as national monuments or protected areas has laid heavy over rural Utah since the late 1990s, when the former president created the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument near Kanab.
In the past few months President Obama has used that same power to create a number of new designations, but many have been relieved that he did so while having some public support from the areas affected. The recent proclamations signed by the president were the establishment of Fort Ord National Monument in California on April 20, 2012, Chimney Rock National Monument on September 21, 2012, and Cesar E. Chavez National Monument on October 8, 2012. President Obama also created a further five National Monuments on March 25, 2013, including the First State National Monument in Delaware.
At 140,000 square miles, Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument is the largest protected area he proclaimed. The smallest was the Father Millet Cross National Monument. It was less than an acre.
However, despite this seemingly more judicial use of the power by the standing president, some fear what could happen, particularly at the end of any presidential term, when the political ramifications of such actions to a sitting President would be minor.
On Tuesday morning, Carbon County Commissioner John Jones spoke to the House of Representatives Natural Resource Committee Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation about this very act. He stated what seems obvious to many people in the rural areas of Utah concerning the Clinton action in 1996.
"We've lived in actual fear of this raw executive power ever since President Clinton and Vice President Gore, in a cowardly, infamous act, failed to engage the people of Utah in a public process," stated Jones. "Nor did they give advance notice to the state's locally elected officials, governor or congressional delegation when they flew into Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park and with the stroke of a pen designated the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, one of the largest monuments ever designated."
Jones said that he became aware of the possibility of the power of the Antiquities Act when President Lyndon Johnson created Capitol Reef National Monument (and added acreage to what was then Arches National Monument) in the last days in office in 1969. Not long after that action, the town of Boulder changed its name to Johnson's Folly in protest, but eventually the community reverted back to its original name.
The Antiquities Act was passed by congress in 1906. The law originally gave the president the authority by executive order to restrict the use of particular public lands owned by the federal government. It has been used more than 100 times since it was passed by Congress. Theodore Roosevelt, who used it first to create Devils Tower National Monument, was a big proponent of the law. He also used it to create the Grand Canyon National Monument, which later became a national park. A number of monuments designated by presidents with this act later became national parks through acts of Congress.
Jones went on to tell the subcommittee "That single action (Clinton's use of the law) deprived the people of Utah and the nation of its cleanest low-sulfur, high-BTU coal supply across the vast Kaiparowits Plateau. Actual loss to the taxpayers was conservatively estimated to exceed $2 billion in lost mineral lease royalties and 60 percent of the coal reserves in the state (of Utah)."
Jones pointed out out that the new monument did not supply the predicted boom in tourism and travel project and that that has affected the school system in Escalante to such a point that it is nearly ready to lose its local schools.
More fear arose in 2010 when a memo was leaked from the Department of the Interior. Many claimed it was a secret list that called for either creating new or expanding existing national monuments in seven western states, including Utah. The two sites I mentioned in the Beehive State include Cedar Mesa in San Juan County and the San Rafael Swell in Emery County. That raised a lot of eyebrows, especially since Emery County has been working hard on a land use plan for the Swell in conjunction with the state, federal authorities and some environmental groups.
"This memo, cooked up in some backrooms as the Grand-Staircase, has spread those same fears across the west," Jones said.
Jones related that many groups are asking that Congress look to limit any administrations power to use the act by either changing the law to require Congressional action or use of the National Environmental Protection Act or both "before any additional National Monuments are designated."
It was also pointed out that legislation regarding two states (Wyoming and Alaska) already restricts the power of the administrative branch in the use of the Antiquities Act. Action by President Franklin Roosevelt creating the Jackson Hole National Monument and President Jimmy Carter's action when it came to proclaiming protected lands in the late 1970s in the 49th state both resulted in Congress putting restrictions on the executive branch on what can be done in those states.
Jones asked the subcommittee to consider some kinds of restrictions on the use of the power of the act.
Jones spoke to the subcommittee on behalf of the National Association of Counties, on which he is a member of the Public Land Steering Committee.
He is also the President of the Utah Association of Counties this year.