WASHINGTON — Angered over President Barack Obama’s protection of public lands, two Nevada lawmakers filed legislation Wednesday that would prevent executive action to expand or designate national monuments without congressional approval.
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, both R-Nev., filed the bills in the Senate and House to “stop these unilateral federal land grabs” regardless of which political office holds the White House.
The lawmakers have titled their bill the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act.
Obama last week designated 300,000 acres of the Gold Butte region in Nevada as a national monument. Although the public land was already under the Bureau of Land Management, the designation would restrict more commercial and private use.
He also designated the Bears Ears region of Utah as a national monument.
Obama said his “actions will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes.”
Democrats, environmentalists and tribal leaders cheered the designation as needed to prevent vandalism and protect natural, cultural and historic treasures.
In a statement, Heller said that last month Nevadans saw the executive branch “lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of local, public land with an effortless stroke of the pen.
“This legislation prevents actions like last month’s Gold Butte land grab from occurring without input from Congress and local officials,” Heller added.
Heller filed his bill in the Senate, and Amodei filed companion legislation in the House.
Obama used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to make the national monument designations.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld previous use of the act by presidents despite controversy over its use to set aside public lands, most notably in the Southwest, for conservation and to save artifacts.
No national monument declaration has been overturned by another president. Any repeal would take congressional action.
Heller said that over the past two years, Obama has restricted 1 million acres of public land in Nevada using the Antiquities Act.
The senator said that presidential powers under the Antiquities Act have been reduced by Congress several times. The first time followed the unpopular proclamation of Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943.
The 1950 law that incorporated Jackson Hole into an enlarged Grand Teton National Park also amended the Antiquities Act, requiring congressional consent for any future creation or enlargement of national monuments in Wyoming.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter used the law to create 56 million acres of national monuments in Alaska.
After that, Congress acted again to limit presidential power, requiring congressional approval for withdrawals of more than 5,000 acres in Alaska.
The Nevada Land Sovereignty Act would mirror the Wyoming exemption, Heller said in his statement.
— Dean Heller (@SenDeanHeller) January 4, 2017