Bill would exempt Nevada from presidential authority

Without the backing of at least one of his Nevada colleagues in the House, Rep. Dean Heller introduced a bill Wednesday to exempt Nevada from the president's authority to designate national monuments without approval of Congress.

The bill by Heller, R-Nev., would add Nevada to a 1950 act signed by President Harry Truman that exempted Wyoming from such designations when Jackson Hole National Monument was dissolved and most of it added to Grand Teton National Park. The 1950 measure modified the Antiquities Act by limiting the power of future presidents to establish national monuments in Wyoming.

Similarly, Heller's bill is "to prohibit the further extension or establishment of national monuments in Nevada except by express authorization of Congress."

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., however, is declining to back Heller's bill, said her spokesman David Cherry.

"If this law was good enough for Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, who saved the Grand Canyon and happens to be on Mount Rushmore, then it's good enough for Congresswoman Shelley Berkley," Cherry said in an e-mail late Wednesday.

The staff of Nevada's other House member, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., had no immediate comment regarding Heller's bill, nor did the staffs of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.

Heller's bill stems from his concerns and those of Republican congressional members in other Western states that the Department of Interior is contemplating creation of 14 national monuments, including two in Nevada.

They're worried that without state-specific exemptions to the Antiquities Act, President Barack Obama would be able to restrict large areas of those states from mining and oil-and-gas drilling by designating national monuments.

A draft internal Interior Department memo that Heller revealed last week contains descriptions of possible national monuments including one called Heart of the Great Basin in central Nevada and Owyhee Desert in Nevada and Oregon. The memo doesn't say how much acreage would be involved.

The Heart of the Great Basin contains "a globally unique assemblage of cultural, wildlife and historical values. ... Thousands of petroglyphs and stone artifacts provide insight to the area's inhabitants from as long as 12,000 years ago," the memo reads. The area contains creeks, aspen groves and habitat for sage grouse and pika, an alpine rodent.

An Interior Department spokeswoman has said the memo is a brainstorming effort that resulted from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking members of his department's agencies to think about what areas might be worth considering for national monuments.

Members of the Republican Western caucus are expected to send Salazar a letter today requesting additional department documents that pertain to national monument candidate sites.