We won’t fight over monuments if we change how they are made

We won’t fight over monuments if we change how they are made
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Last week, House Democrats pushed forward a resolution demanding the Trump administration be more transparent about its review of national monuments. Their allegations of a “hidden process” sound eerily familiar: This time last year, Utah’s Congressional delegation joined local Navajos in making almost identical accusations about the developments surrounding then-President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny Russian social media is the modern-day Trojan horse Trump records robo-call for Gillespie: He'll help 'make America great again' MORE’s impending designation of the Bears Ears National Monument.

All that separates these two groups is time — and the individual who occupies the Oval Office. Instead of shouting past one another, it’s time both sides see through ideological and partisan differences to transform the designation and reduction of national monuments into a transparent process.

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Neither side seems to question the pure intentions of the Antiquities Act. It was the first federal action taken to establish cultural and historical areas as important public resources and instructs federal land managers to protect archaeological sites from grave robbers, looters and acts of vandalism.

 

Yet for all its foresight, the law has a glaring flaw. The law rejected the American system of checks and balances and vested total power in one individual to either designate or reduce national monuments. Thus presidents of both parties were given the ability to — with the stroke of a pen — disregard those most impacted by land management decisions in favor of an agenda often focused on ideological and self-centered goals. When partisan politics and shortsighted agendas are in play, transparency is rarely a consideration.

It’s time both sides draw on their shared love of our national treasures and realize that a faulty process and a lack of transparency — not a lack of values — are largely creating the divide.

Earlier this week, Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopOvernight Energy: GOP chairman has 'more questions' on Whitefish deal | Dems slam EPA science board changes | Industry pushes back on Perry grid plan GOP chairman has ‘more questions’ about Puerto Rico’s Whitefish Energy contract The SECURE American Energy Act only endangers public lands MORE (R-Utah) introduced the National Monument Creation and Protection Act (NMCPA), which would limit the president’s unilateral authority under the Antiquities Act and make the national monument designation process more transparent.

Two provisions in particular stand out.

First, the bill incorporates those most impacted by national monument reductions and designations into the discussion. County commissioners, state legislatures and governors become part of the process and open it up to dialogue and debate. Locals, who know and love their public lands the most, will have access to their county and state representatives to voice their concerns and share their perspectives.

Second, the NMCPA makes National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) an integral part of the designation and reduction processes. NEPA requires federal agencies to provide meaningful opportunities for public participation. This takes a variety of forms and can include publishing information in the Federal Register, holding public meetings and formal hearings and giving opportunities to submit written comments. Such involvement will help decision-makers hear all points of view and allow information to be shared broadly.

Under the status quo, each side faces immense uncertainty awaiting the unilateral decisions of an incoming president. The choices surrounding national monuments are kept secret, with only those “in the know” privy to confidential information. This process relegates our national monuments to little more than political footballs being punted back and forth with each change of presidential administration.

It’s time for both sides to come together and reform the Antiquities Act into a law by, of and for the people, where an open process and constitutional principles safeguard the environment, protect archaeological sites, create abundant recreational opportunities and secure the economic future of rural communities. Let’s stop viewing the winner-take-all system as the only path forward. Collaboration and compromise always produce clarity and, when combined with a transparent process, will help all Americans see a better and brighter future for our public lands.

Matthew Anderson is director of the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of Sutherland Institute. Sutherland is a public policy think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.