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Summary of National Monument Hearings (7-1-99)



Legislative Hearing on H.R. 1487, National Monument NEPA Compliance Act
House Committee on Resources
House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands
May 18, 1999





Summary
          At the May 18 hearing,  members' opening statements reflected their anger over the president's declaration of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Mr. Leshy, solicitor for the Department of the Interior, was scheduled to testify but was dismissed as he had not turned in his testimony the specified 48 hours in advance of the hearing.  Chairman Hansen postponed Mr. Leshy's testimony until an unspecified future date.

Members Present
Chairman James V. Hansen (R-UT)
Rep. Christopher Cannon (R-UT)
Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO)
Rep. Don Sherwood (R-PA)
Rep. James A.Gibbons (R-NV)

Opening Statements
          In their opening statements, subcommittee members argued that the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was "an election-year ploy" accomplished by the "abuse of the Antiquities Act."  Rep. Cannon argued that since the enactment of the Antiquities Act, other pieces of legislation have been drafted, such as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, to protect threatened areas from development; this subsequent legislation makes using  the Antiquities Act as a tool for protection unnecessary. Rep. Cannon was angered by the lack of public participation in the 1996 declaration by the administration and states that legislation should "subject the president to the same environmental rules as the rest of us."  Rep. Hefley offered his opinion  that the Administration created a "pork park" and that legislation should be created to prevent that abuse of political power. Rep. Sherwood and Rep. Gibbons agreed that the bill will lead to good policy and is in the best interest of both public lands and the entire public.  Rep. Gibbons argued that NEPA should apply to all government actions and while "cumbersome" it has its benefits. The Chairman then dismissed the hearing to be reconvened at a future date for witness testimony.


Legislative Hearing on H.R. 1487, National Monument Bill
House Resources Committee
House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands
June 17, 1999

Summary
The June 17th hearing was held to get testimony from John Leshy, Solicitor for the Department of the Interior, on the subject of H.R. 1487, "a bill to provide for public participation in the declaration of national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906."  This legislation arose in direct response to the President's declaration of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument under the Antiquities Act.  Not surprisingly, the Republican members of the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. James Hansen from Utah, felt very strongly that the Antiquities Act had been abused and used as a means of avoiding Congress in land-use designations.  They were strong supporters of the Hansen-sponsored bill.  Leshy spoke out in support of the Antiquities Act as it stands and defended the Grand Staircase decision, all with mild support from the Democrats on the subcommittee.

Members Present
 
Subcommittee Chair James Hansen (R-UT) Bruce Vento (D-MN)
Christopher Cannon (R-UT) Jay Inslee (D-WA)
John Duncan (R-TN) Mark Udall (D-CO)
Don Sherwood (R-PA) Tom Udall (D-NM)

Note:  At the time of this writing the full testimony is not yet available on the Subcommittee's website, but it may be sometime in the future.  If interested, check http://www.house.gov/resources/106cong/parks/parks99mtg.htm to see if it has since been updated.

Introductory Remarks
The hearing was brought to order and chairman Hansen set the tone by stating that today the Antiquities Act is being used to short-circuit the voice of the people. He went on to say that this hearing and his bill, H.R. 1487,  were the direct result of the president's declaration of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Hansen explained that by using the Antiquities Act, the President and the Department of Interior avoided Congress and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).  He mentioned rumors of more "secret monument plans"  and emphasized the importance of passing H.R. 1487 to protect against election-year ploys and Department of the Interior (DOI) side-stepping, and in order to ensure public input before the Antiquities Act can be applied.  H.R. 1487 essentially requires that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be submitted before the President can ask the Secretary of the Interior to sign areas into wilderness.  For a full statement on the position of Hansen on the Antiquities Act, see the subcommittee webpage at http://www.house.gov/resources/106cong/parks/blmissues.htm#antiquities.

Vento, the ranking minority member, was going to be late to the hearing and Inslee submitted a statement for the record on his behalf.  Cannon offered a few short words, establishing his belief that the Antiquities Act had been exploited and abused.  He found the idea of more monuments "scary," and the Administration's side stepping of NEPA to be hypocritical.  Rep. Mark Udall submitted his statement and a letter for the record.

Witnesses:
Mr. John Leshy, Solicitor, Department of the Interior

Before Leshy began his formal statement, Hansen outlined his understanding of the Grand Staircase timeline:  in 1995 DOI began looking at the possibility of creating wilderness in Utah without the involvement of Congress;  in August, 1995, a memo was sent from Leshy to the DOI secretary looking at the legal implications and risks of using the Antiquities Act;  then on July 26, 1996, the actual proclamation was drafted.  Hansen asked Leshy if this was all true and let the solicitor begin his statement.

Leshy stated that the above timeline is not true at all.  He recalled the earliest conversation on creating wilderness in southern Utah took place in July, 1996. On July 3, 1996, Leshy was asked to tell the Secretary of the Interior that the President was interested in a monument in Utah.  Further conversations took place on the subject throughout August, and on September 18, 1996, the President made the final decision to declare the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

As part of his prepared statement, Leshy went into statistics that the Antiquities Act had been used over 100 times by 14 presidents.  He said there was nothing illegal about it, the Act had not been abused, and that the Secretary of the Interior would recommend a veto on H.R. 1487.  Leshy called the Antiquities Act an "unparalleled resource protection success story."  He asserted that H.R. 1487 would weaken and hinder a proven, successful Act that protects America's wilderness.  Leshy reminded the subcommittee of other areas originally protected under the Act -- such as the Grand Canyon, Acadia National Park, Carlsbad Caverns, and the Statue of Liberty -- and of the fact that originally there had been a great deal of anger when Roosevelt first protected the Grand Canyon, now an internationally recognized natural wonder.

With Leshy the only scheduled witness for the day, a lengthy question and answer period followed.  One issue that came up several times in questions from Hansen and Cannon was the fact that the Antiquities Act allows the president to withdraw land in order "to protect it."  Neither of the Representatives was clear on what the land in southern Utah was being protected from, and Cannon repeatedly asked Leshy just this, seemingly in an effort to get Leshy to come out and say  that the land was being protected from mining.  Leshy instead emphasized the cultural, geologic, and scientific value of the lands and the fact that the Antiquities Act does not require that the land be under a direct and immediate threat.  During the questions there was considerable back and forth over the involvement of anyone outside of the Administration in the monument declaration.  The Utah delegation maintained that they and the public were kept in the dark until the surprise announcement; Leshy said several times that there had been a "vigorous and brief" public comment period.  Questions from the Democrats at the hearing brought out that the Antiquities Act only affects lands already in the public domain and brought about discussion as to whether or not H.R. 1487 subjects the President to unprecedented NEPA compliance.


Markup Hearing on H.R. 1487, the "National Monument NEPA Compliance Act" and Other Bills
House Resources Committee
June 30, 1999

This full committee meeting was held to vote on a number of bills, including H.R. 1487, the National Monument NEPA Compliance Act.  Even before the hearing came to order, there were whispers in the audience about a last-minute compromise between the bill's sponsor, Rep. James Hansen (R-UT), and Rep. Bruce Vento (D-MN).  Hansen introduced his bill with some history on the Antiquities Act, explaining that at the time of its introduction in 1906 there were no other acts to be used for withdrawing and protecting public lands.  He gave the purpose of the bill as giving the public input into land use decisions.  Some short discussion followed, with some back and forth as the amount of involvement the public had in past Antiquities Act withdrawals, specifically those that occurred in Alaska under President Carter (not a surprising subject to come up, considering Rep. Don Young, R-AK, chairs the committee).

Vento introduced an amendment to the bill as part of the rumored compromise.  The Vento amendment specifies that it is the Secretary of the Interior and not the President that is subject to NEPA review, and posits that the President shall consult with the governor and delegation of affected states "to the extent practical." This last language led to some discussion and fears from the Republicans that they were leaving a gaping door through which the Administration could side-step the bills intent.  Vento wanted to retain the language in case of emergencies, but agreed to work with Hansen and come up with report language to clarify the intent and specify that "to the extent practical" is meant only to apply to emergency situations.

Both the amendment and the bill passed by voice vote and will now move to the House floor.
 



Sources:  Hearing Testimony

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Scott Broadwell

Last updated July 1, 1999


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