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 LeeOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions 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 TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally 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 MurkowskiHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Klobuchar, Murkowski introduce legislation to protect consumer health data 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) ManchinCritics say Interior's top lawyer came 'close to perjury' during Hill testimony Critics say Interior's top lawyer came 'close to perjury' during Hill testimony The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Trump takes heat for remarks on help from foreign governments 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.