Most Recent Action   Previous Action  Background 

Update on Public Land Issues (3-27-02)

Former President Clinton designated nineteen new national monuments and expanded several others under the Antiquities Act of 1906 -- a trend that concerned recreation groups, industry, and western Republicans in Congress, while pleasing environmental groups.  Congressional reaction to the president's use of the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments included the introduction of several bills to limit the president's power under the act.  Not all land decisions were contentious -- an example is a preserve created by the Valles Caldera Preservation and Land Transaction Facilitation Act passed by Congress and signed by the president.  Leaders in Congress and in the new administration have stated that they will carefully review many of the designations made by Clinton and possibly attempt to revoke several of them.  The National Library for the Environment has a Congressional Research Service report entitled "National Monument Issues" that gives a brief overview of this issue.

Most Recent Action
The House Resources Committee approved a bill (H.R. 2114), the National Monument Fairness Act, that would require congressional oversight when the president uses the Antiquities Act to designate or expand national monuments of 50,000 or more acres.  Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) introduced the legislation in June 2001, and the House Resources Committee held a hearing on July 17, 2001. Under this bill, the president would have to work with the communities affected by the proposed monument, notify the governor of the state(s) in which the proposed site is, and confirm with Congress before making an official proclamation designating the site as a national monument.  The president would have to provide the governor and the state congressional delegation 60 days to review the proposal before the designation of monuments.  Congress would have the power to override a presidential designation if it does not approve the proposal into law within two years of the proclamation. In a press release, Simpson states: "Allowing the public and Congress a seat at the table strengthens, not weakens, the Antiquities Act and ensures all parties have a voice in the debate."   (3/26/02)

President Bush announced the nomination of Rebecca Watson to be the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Lands and Minerals Management on November 6th.  The Senate confirmed Watson's nomination, along with several other Department of the Interior and Department of Energy nominees, on December 12th.  As Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Lands and Minerals Management, Watson will oversee the activities of the Bureau of Land Management, the Minerals Management Service, and the Office of Surface Mining.  Since 1995, Rebecca Watson has been working in Helena, MT, for the law firm of Gough, Shanahan, Johson & Waterman on a range of environmental and natural resource issues.  Watson was Assistant General Counsel for Energy Policy at the Department of Energy, under the previous Bush aministration.  She received her law degree from the University of Denver School of Law.  Also up for confirmation, is the nomination of Kathleen Clarke as the Director of the Bureau of Land Management.  Bush announced Clarke's nomination on August 27th.  For the past nine years, Clarke has worked at the Utah Department of Natural Resources, serving as Executive Director since 1998.  Before working for the Utah DNR, she worked for, now Chairman of the House Resources Committee, Rep. Jim Hansen (R-UT) as an executive director of the Ogden, UT, field office. (12/12/01)

Previous Action
National Monument Designation
On January 20, 2001, as one of his first presidential actions, George W. Bush ordered the Federal Register to stop publication of new rules implemented in the final weeks of the Clinton Administration.  This order affected a monument designation by Clinton of Governor's Island in New York Harbor.  Also halted by Bush's order was a plan that restricted road building and logging in 60 million acres of national forest around the country.  The sixty-day stay gives Congress time to review the roadless initiative, pushing back the effective date for the initiative to May 12.  For more information on the roadless initiative introduced last year see the AGI Forest Service Service Roadless Initiative Update. (1/21/01)

In an interview on February 20, 2001, Interior Secretary Gale Norton stated that the Bush administration would not push to overturn any of President Clinton's national monument designations.  She criticized the Clinton administration for not allowing state and local input into monument designations and for moving too quickly without considering how the five million acres of new monument land would be managed.  She declared, "The monument designations were more show than substance. We now have to provide the substance."  It would be a long, difficult process to reverse Clinton's monument designations, especially with a closely divided Congress and strong pro-environment public sentiment.  Norton indicated that the Department of the Interior is willing to work with state and local governments as well as landowners to ensure that the monuments are managed to suit their needs.  She said that the manner in which the monuments are managed must take into account current land use and be suited for local needs and circumstances.  On Capitol Hill, House Resources Committee Chairman James Hanson (R-UT) sent a letter to encourage House members who are unhappy with monuments in their districts to draft legislation challenging the designations.  The full article covering the Norton interview can be viewed on the Washington Post website. (2/22/01)

On November 15th, a federal judge upheld a decision made by former President Clinton to protect land in Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.  According to U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman, Clinton acted properly when he created six new national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to act without congressional approval to safeguard objects of historic and scientific interest.  The Mountain States Legal Defense Fund of Denver challenged the constitutionality of the law and accused Clinton of overstepping his authority in creating the Cascades-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon, the Hanford Reach in Washington, the Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado, and the Grand Canyon-Parashant, Ironwood Forest, and Sonoron Desert National Monuments in Arizona.  Judge Friedman dismissed the lawsuit and found that Clinton had acted appropriately under power legally granted by Congress.  William Perry Pendley, president and chief legal officer for the Mountain States Legal Foundation said that he planned to appeal the decision. Clinton used the Antiquity Act to create 19 monuments and expand three others, protecting a total 5.9 million acres of land threatened by development. (11/19/01)

Other Public Land Issues
One of the few public land decisions made in the last Congress that did not have heated debate was the establishment of the Valles Caldera Preservations.  Part of the reason for the support for the acquisition on these lands was due to the unusual makeup of the governing board.  On January 10, 2001, the Board of Trustees for the Valles Caldera National Preserve was sworn in.  The preserve was created by S. 1892, the Valles Caldera Preservation and Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, signed into law by President Clinton during the 106th Congress.  The board is charged with providing a unique management structure for the preserve, which incorporates the desires of local citizen groups as well as national conservation goals.  The first public meeting of the board was held Tuesday, January 23, 2001.  For more information on the preserve see the AGI Update on the Federal Acquisition of the Valles Caldera. (2/18/01)

During the second half of his presidency, Bill Clinton used his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate fifteen national monuments and expand several others without congressional approval.  As a result, the power of the president to designate and manage federal lands has come under intense scrutiny beginning after President Clinton's 1996 designation of the 1.7 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah without congressional notification (for more information, see the AGI Update on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument).  In response to Clinton's prolific use of the Antiquities Act, several bills were proposed in the 106th Congress that would limit the power of the executive branch to classify federal lands. Several of the bills introduced specifically amend the Antiquities Act to reduce the power of the president to make designations without congressional approval.  Other proposed legislation highlighted the need for state and local input into declaration of lands with restricted use or designation of national monuments.  None of the proposed bills were passed by Congress or signed into law in the 106th Congress.  The Valles Caldera National Preserve was created through congressional action that was signed into law July 25, 2000.  Details about land designations by executive order and congressional action during the 106th Congress see the AGI Update on Land Sovereignty and National Monument Acts.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton stated at her conformation hearings that decisions such as Clinton's use of the Antiquities Act "should be made in a process that includes the people who are affected by those decisions.  And I would certainly hope that in the future we would hear input from those of you on this committee, from governors, from local communities before we take actions that are going to deeply impact people's lives."  On Capitol Hill, new House Resources Committee Chairman James Hansen (R-UT) has announced that his committee will be carefully reviewing several of the Clinton Administration regulations and national monument designations.  In a press release, Hansen stated: "Congress has the authority to review this and 60 legislative days to do so. I can promise you a thorough and vigorous review."   These statements indicate that many of Clinton's monument designations may be challenged in the 107th Congress.

One subject of intense speculation in the 106th Congress was whether Clinton would declare the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) a national monument, which would ban all oil and gas exploration on the site. Clinton announced on January 10, 2001 that ANWR would not be declared a national monument. Clinton aides explained that the decision was based on the fact that having national monument status would not further protect ANWR from petroleum exploration activities.  Congressional action is needed to allow drilling in either a national monument or a wildlife refuge. 

Sources: Greenwire, Energy & Environment Publishing, White House website, Congressional Greensheets, Department of the Interior website, and the Washington Post.

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

Contributed by AGI/AAPG policy intern Mary Patterson, Fall 2001 AGI/AAPG policy intern Catherine Macris, and Margaret A. Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted January 21, 2001; Last Updated March 27, 2002

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