Opinion: Antiquities Act Remains Open to Abuse


by Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) of the House Natural Resources Committee


The reduction of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments is welcome news for those whose lives have been upended by unilateral, fly-by-night designations. President Trump has righted wrongs perpetrated by President Obama and President Clinton, both of whom overstepped their legal authority and cordoned off millions of acres of land under the guise of protection.


President Trump's actions are a first step in protecting antiquities within the scope of executive authority. The next step is for Congress to ensure that traditional land uses for these areas are maintained into the future – no longer subject to the whims of federal lands managers – and local communities have a guaranteed role in future management decisions. Rep. Curtis and Rep. Stewart of Utah’s delegation have put forward bills to do so, and I support them wholeheartedly.

However, the fundamental problem remains the Antiquities Act itself. It has been repeatedly abused to appease special interest groups at the expense of local people and perspectives. These abuses have corroded the act’s original intent beyond recognition: it was designed as a limited measure to protect antiquities or “objects of historic or scientific interest”; it has been treated as a blank check for activist presidents to foist a radical agenda on unwilling populations.

President Trump’s deference to the rule of law and federalism means little if his successor can seize the same power he has chosen to relent. It is incumbent upon Congress to remove that temptation by amending the law.

My bill, the National Monument Creation and Protection Act (CAP Act), would limit unilateral designations to 640 acres. Anything larger than 10,000 acres would require the permission of all local governing bodies affected from the county to the state. Antiquities could be protected quickly and presidents could no longer usurp authority they were never intended to have.   


The CAP Act restores the original intent of the Antiquities Act. Most importantly, though, it restores the constitutional balance of power between the executive and legislative branches on one hand, and federal and state governments on the other.


Photo: Bureau of Land Management

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