Believe it or not, I'm a big fan of the Antiquities Act. Realizing in 1906 that Congress was sometimes slow and imprecise when doing certain things, they delegated a portion of their authority over public lands to the president. That gave the president the ability to protect objects of historic or scientific importance that were in some sort of imminent danger. Probably sounded reasonable then and it still does, at least to me.
So, why am I opposed to the governor's proposed new San Rafael National Monument? Because it goes far beyond what Congress authorized a president to do in designating a national monument.
The Antiquities Act was narrowly written both in terms of what a president can do and in terms of how it must be done. These limitations are particularly important because the Constitution gave Congress exclusive power over public lands. Without these specific limitations, the Antiquities Act would have been un-constitutional. The Congress cannot simply delegate to the president all of its responsibility regarding public lands less it violate the "Delegation Doctrine."
That is why, although a fan of the Antiquities Act itself, I was outraged when president Clinton stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon and declared that 1.7 million acres of Utah was needed to "protect" various objects of scientific importance. Everyone, including Clinton's staff, knew it wasn't true, that these objects were not really endangered. Later, it was revealed that the whole thing was nothing more than a political stunt done in an election year to curry political favor with voters in California, Arizona and Colorado.
Political stunts in and of themselves aren't necessarily outrageous or illegal. They happen all the time. Presidents aren't the only politicians that make announcements of grand public works projects at politically convenient times and locations. It's the American way.
The reason this political stunt was so outrageous was that it was an obvious abuse of the letter and intent of the law. Made all the more outrageous to Utahns because we have seen the manipulation of our pubic lands for political gain before, and we don't like it. The small communities and unique culture that exists in our rural areas are important to us. We must have management that strikes the proper balance between protection and conservation and access to and use of resources.
Sticking to the letter and intent of public land management law is vital to a state that is over two thirds federal land. Without the strong adherence to laws and regulation, our lives and livelihoods suffer at the whims of politicians too far removed from the unique circumstances and changing conditions of the lands they rule.
This is exactly the problem that the elected leaders of Emery County face today. The constant threat of excessive wilderness designation, restrictive management policies and abuses of agenda driven bureaucrats are threatening the character of their communities. Their culture, no less unique or valuable as any other, is at risk. In desperation, they have asked for a monument designation.
I sympathize with Emery County and rural communities all over the West. The threat is real. In Utah, the BLM is in the process of nearly doubling the amount of Wilderness Study Areas and is under pressure to drastically reduce grazing and oil and gas development. Wilderness advocacy groups have announced their intent to end all logging, all grazing, all oil and gas development and any other human use of public lands. Developed recreation will not escape and of course those nasty off highway vehicles have got to go.
This is why sticking to the letter and intent of public land law is so important to Utah. And that is why the Utah Shared Access Alliance has asked the governor to delay forwarding the request to the president. Significant and fundamental questions must be answered before the proposal moves forward.
The Antiquities Act does not authorize a president to reserve land as a national monument simply for the sake of changing an existing land management plan, even if the local residents request that he do so. It only authorizes the withdrawal of land "the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected."
While we acknowledge that there probably are some objects of historic and scientific interest that may justify monument designation in the Swell, no credible case can be made that more than 620,000 acres is needed for the protection of these objects in the Swell.
The eyes of the world will be on Utah in the coming days. The governor must resist the temptation to forward this important matter to the president during his Olympic visit. The Antiquities Act, or any law for that matter, should not be abused for any reason no matter how noble the cause. The BLM has already begun a process to completely replace the management plan for the entire region. Let's not shortcut that legal and deliberative process.
I am a big fan of the Antiquities Act, but I am even more committed to our elected officials abiding by both the spirit and the letter of the laws they are elected to make and execute. What Emery County and the people of Utah need is a strong voice in how public lands are managed. This proposal is not the way to accomplish that goal. Let's do it the right way!