Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives is planning a vote this week on H.R. 1459, a bill sponsored by Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and six other Western anti-public land zealots that chips away at the Antiquities Act signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.
The Antiquities Act–which was introduced by a Republican, passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by a Republican President–gives the President authority to protect iconic historical, cultural, and natural sites as National Monuments. The law has served our nation well for over 100 years and been used by 16 Presidents (8 Republican and 8 Democrat).
The sponsors of H.R. 1459 are promoting their bill as a way to undermine the authority of the current President. By making this about President Obama, they are banking on partisanship to deliver the needed number of Republican votes for passage.
This is short-sighted in the extreme. A National Monument proclaimed by the President under the Antiquities Act can already be abolished by an act of Congress if it is unpopular. By limiting presidential authority on the front end, H.R. 1489 would equally hamper a future Republican President.
The Antiquities Act was enacted at a time of mounting concern over loss of priceless natural and historic treasures in the West to uncontrolled looting and vandalism. By authorizing the President to protect nationally important resources, the Antiquities Act facilitates a swift response to threats. In its absence, these assets were often irreparably damaged before Congress could act.
The Antiquities Act is a prudent and conservative law that ensures protection for those special places that are irreplaceable features of the American experience. It provides a vital safeguard against short-term pressures to exploit such sites.
With a myriad of threats facing our remaining natural landscapes and historic sites, and a dysfunctional Congress, our nation needs the Antiquities Act just as much today as it did when Theodore Roosevelt signed it into law.
As the great conservative author and theorist Russell Kirk wrote:
“Nothing is more conservative than conservation.”