The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday approved a bill that would allow local governments and the public to weigh on national monument designations representing more than 5,000 acres.
H.R. 1459, Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments, passed with a vote of 222-201. It was introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
The monument designation process is currently governed by the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows the President unrestricted authority to make "national monument" designations.
The EPIC Act would amend the Antiquities Act to require potential monument designations of 5,000 acres or more are given full review under the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA reviews include in-depth analysis of the impacts of a proposed action, as well as the opportunity for local government and public involvement in the decision-making process.
Previous designations 'outside intent of the law'
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Public Lands Council say that the Antiquities Act was intended to protect small, historically or scientifically significant lands, abuse by Presidents has "led to vast monument designations that are outside the original intent of the law."
The groups say large monument designations have had "devastating impacts" on local economies and culture due to the restrictions they place on productive uses of the land. Applying NEPA to large proposed designations would ensure that the public was made aware of those impacts and give the opportunity for input, they say.
Currently, minor federal agency decisions regarding livestock grazing are subject NEPA analysis, but national monument designations that could encompass millions of acres are not, an inequality that EPIC would correct, says Brice Lee, PLC president.
"The Antiquities Act is being abused and utilized to subvert the role of our elected representatives in making impactful decisions on the management of our federal lands," Lee said. "Congress enacted this law with the best of intentions—now it must be fixed to respond to the continued abuse."
The EPIC Act would allow a President no more than one monument designation per state, per term.
While it would not require NEPA review for designations smaller than 5,000 acres, it would place a 3-year expiration date on those designations unless the designation is approved by Congress. Additionally, it would require any monument designation to be followed by a study estimating long-term management costs and potential loss in federal and state revenue.
Finally, EPIC would not allow monuments to include private property without the informed written consent of the affected private property owner.
NCBA President Bob McCan said some monument designations have unintended consequences for ranchers, local economies and the environment.
"Grazing encourages healthy plant growth, cuts down on fuel loads that lead to catastrophic wildfires, and supplies water sources to wildlife," he said. "Keeping ranchers in business is good policy for conservation of both private and public land."
"By preventing unilateral de facto wilderness designations by the executive branch, the EPIC Act will promote greater stability for the livestock industry. "