Senate rejects bid to block future national monuments in Utah

In a bipartisan vote, senators on Monday blocked a measure that would have prevented presidents from unilaterally protecting land in Utah as national monuments.

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Push for paid family leave heats up ahead of 2020 New act can help us grapple with portion of exploding national debt MORE (R-Utah) wanted to attach the amendment to the Natural Resources Management Act, a wide-ranging public lands bill that has bipartisan support. The legislation includes provisions related to recreation, access to land and indefinitely extending the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

A motion to table Lee's amendment, or reject it, passed 60-33.

ADVERTISEMENT

Under the Antiquities Act, presidents can unilaterally designate any piece of federal land as a national monument, protecting it from development or other harms. In Wyoming, such monuments can only be created with consent from Congress, while Alaska has a restriction against large monuments.

“At a bare minimum, Utah deserves the same protection that Wyoming has received,” Lee said before the vote. “Let me be clear: My opposition is not about whether our national treasures, our parks, monuments, lands should be protected. It is not about whether they should be but how to do that and who is best equipped to do that and who is most knowledgeable to do it well."

He went on to say that he's “asking for Utah’s elected leaders, its elected lawmakers in Congress, to weigh in on these matters before they become law rather than to have those decisions being made from thousands of miles away by just one person.”

Utah leaders are still reeling over former President Clinton’s creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and former President Obama’s creation of the Bears Ears National Monument, both in southern Utah. President TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE shrunk both monuments significantly, a move that’s under litigation.

Lee blocked the public lands bill from moving forward in December because he could not attach the Utah provision. He also argued that lawmakers did not have enough time to review the entire bill.

Senators in both parties argued that the amendment threatened a bipartisan agreement.

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE (R-Alaska) said she agreed with many of Lee’s arguments and pledged to work with him on the matter.

“But our dilemma, if you will, is we have a package before us of lands bills, of water bills, of sportsmen ... provisions, of conservation provisions that we have been working to build that level of consensus," she said, adding that Lee's amendment "would bring down this effort.”

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Senate poised to confirm Trump’s attorney general pick MORE (W.Va.), the committee’s top Democrat, said the public lands bill is not the place for Lee’s amendment.

“I have talked to Sen. Lee many times about his concerns with national monuments in his state, and while I respect his views, I will oppose any amendment which threatens the success of the lands bill,” he said before the vote.