White House declares five national monuments

The Sierra Club said Obama’s actions would “protect hundreds of thousands of acres of land.” And League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said the monuments are “a reflection of the strong local support for conservation efforts that grow our economy.”

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As a result of Obama’s order, New Mexico’s Rio Grande Del Norte and Washington’s San Juan Islands were tabbed as national monuments.

Obama also established the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio and the Delaware Heritage Trail, the state’s first national monument.

In a statement, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the monuments would underscore the nation’s landscape, history and heroes from the civil rights movement and the Civil War all while serving as “economic engines” for communities.

But the move generated some backlash from conservatives who said Obama was unilaterally acting to close off public lands to other activity and that it would cost federal dollars to create the monuments.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) took issue with the declarations, labeling them a squandered opportunity for economic growth. He also said the monuments would add to federal spending.

He disapproved of Obama employing executive powers through the 1906 Antiquities Act to establish the monuments, which Obama had used four times before Monday. Hastings said such actions should face more scrutiny from Congress and local officials.

“Several of these designations may merit preservation and be popular with some advocates in the local community, but this outdated law can be used by a President to unilaterally impose policies unwelcome and strongly opposed by local elected leaders and Governors for the economic harm caused to their small rural communities and states,” Hastings said in a Monday statement.

White House Deputry Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a Monday news conference that there would be "minimal" costs in the early stages for establishing the monuments.

Earnest said that is because sizable amounts of the land for the monuments are either federally owned or donated.

— This story was last updated at 3:05 p.m.