- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2018

After years of presidents stretching their legal authority to create sprawling national monuments with little input from Congress, lawmakers on Tuesday formally reasserted themselves into the process and began debate on three separate bills to create or modify monuments.

A hearing before the House subcommittee on federal lands Tuesday saw lawmakers debate the merits of several would-be monuments, including a site in Jackson, Mississippi, honoring the civil rights icon Medgar Evers, who led desegregation efforts in the state before being shot in front of his home. That home would officially be declared a national monument under a bill proposed by Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, and supported by key Republicans in the House Natural Resources Committee.

“His dogged pursuit for justice made him a target for hate … Designating the home of Medgar Evers a national monument will be an everlasting tribute to his legacy and journey that countless Americans undertook for equality,” Mr. Thompson said in testimony before the subcommittee on Tuesday morning.

The committee also will consider increasing the acreage of Colorado’s Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and another bill allow increased recreational activities at California’s Desert Conservation Area.

The committee’s effort to push national monuments through a normal legislative process comes just two months after President Trump took the highly controversial step of slashing both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments, established by former Presidents Obama and Clinton, respectively.

Those two monuments, critics said, were the worst examples of executive abuse of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the power to create monuments. Unlike the home of Medgar Evers, a specific site with clear historical and cultural significance, Mr. Obama’s and Mr. Clinton’s monument designations often put hundreds of thousands of acres of wooded area under federal control.

Monument designations shut off much of that area to energy development, and critics argued Democratic presidents were abusing the monument process to achieve their policy goals.

Republicans say they’re not at all opposed to new monuments, provided proper processes are followed, and that the voices of lawmakers and local stakeholders are heeded.

“Despite efforts from special interest groups to mislead the public, we’re not opposed to national monuments. The debate has never been if we protect or preserve, but how. Often times monuments established under the Antiquities Act are done without a public process and against the will of local communities. Rep. Thompson’s legislation to establish the Medgar Evers National Monument is the way that monument designations are supposed to happen, through public hearings and engagement with local stakeholders,” said Katie Schoettler, spokesperson for the Natural Resources Committee.

The three bills brought up for debate Tuesday seem to have garnered a strong bipartisan consensus, which was sorely lacking from the discussions around Bears Ears, Grand Staircase, and other monuments that proved highly divisive and legally questionable.

“These are good bills that deserve our attention and support,” said Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Hawaii Democrat and ranking member on the federal lands subcommittee.


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