Senior Republicans allege secret Interior plot to create national monuments

The lawmakers fear Obama will wield executive power to designate large regions where uses such as oil-and-gas drilling and mining would be greatly restricted.

“It is time to end the imperial view of the Antiquities Act under which the Executive branch claims unlimited and unilateral power to make designations without regard to the size of the area, the beneficial resources denied to our country, or the effect on families who are robbed of the opportunity for good-paying local jobs,” states the letter.

Hastings is the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, while Bishop is the top Republican on the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee.

Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said the document is merely a preliminary draft that’s the fruit of “brainstorming” within Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. No decisions have been made about which areas, if any, might merit “more serious review and consideration,” she said.

“Secretary Salazar believes it is important that the Department of the Interior serve as wise stewards of the places that matter most to Americans.  For that reason, he has asked DOI’s bureaus to think about what areas might be worth considering for further review for possible special management or Congressional designation,” she said.

Salazar, she said, “believes new designations and conservation initiatives work best when they build on local efforts to better manage places that are important to nearby communities.”

But the letter alleges the internal Interior document shows that agency political officials are “working in secret” or “perhaps in collaboration with special interest groups.”

It calls for outreach to elected officials and communities before making any National Monument designations, and adherence to several criteria, such as designations that are “constrained” in size and clearly contain historic landmarks, structures and other objects of historic or scientific interests.

“Designations are not to be used as a backdoor maneuver to lock-up lands for general purposes that deny public access for recreation and job creation,” the write, adding that Congress never intended to give the executive branch “carte blanche” power for land use designations.

Update: This post initially claimed that Interior's document lists 17 candidates for national monuments. It contains 14, plus three areas (two in Alaska and one in Wyoming) that are "worthy" of protection but are ineligible for monument designation.

This post was updated at 5:01 p.m.