By Timothy Cama - 05/21/14 05:08 PM EDT
President Obama formally designated almost half a million acres in southern New Mexico as a national monument Wednesday, saying it would protect vital resources and history, but enraging Republicans.
Obama held a ceremony at the Interior Department headquarters to sign the declaration creating the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Obama can unilaterally create national monuments under the Antiquities Act to protect them from development.
“For anyone who hasn’t seen the Organ Mountains that overlook Las Cruces, N.M., will tell you that they are a spectacular site,” Obama said. “You’ve got massive rocks that jut up 9,000 feet in the air and stretch for 20 miles, like organ pipes of a giant. And they’re home to many of God’s smaller creatures as well, deer and antelope roam, falcons, mountain lions.”
“You can see it today and I want to make sure that future generations can see it as well,” he said.
The designation will also help the economy of the area and could increase tourism by up to 70 percent, Obama said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the designation puts the security of the border at risk. The new monument touches the border with Mexico, and border patrol officers may be subject to new restrictions under the designation, Boehner warned.
“Once again, the president has chosen to bypass the legislative branch — and, in this case, do so in a manner that adds yet another challenge in our ongoing efforts to secure our southern border,” Boehner said in a statement. “At a time of continued cartel violence in Mexico, we should not be putting any additional restraints on efforts to protect our borders.”
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, called the action part of Obama’s “imperial presidency.”
“Instead of working in a transparent, open manner that guarantees public participation, President Obama is taking unilateral action, behind closed doors to designate hundreds of thousands of acres,” Hastings said in a statement.
The House passed a bill in March to severely restrict the president’s authority to designate national monuments, limiting them to once a term and requiring thorough environmental analysis before the designations.