WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is committing “executive abuse” in reportedly moving to create a national monument in rural Nevada, according to a House chairman who says Congress should have a voice.
“The president has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar,” said Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. His comments follow the leak of a draft White House proclamation to Rep. Cresent Hardy, R-Nev., who made it public on Thursday.
The document, said to be circulating among federal agencies for comment, has room for Obama’s signature designating 704,000 acres — the equivalent of 1,100 square miles — in Lincoln and Nye counties as a federally protected “Basin and Range National Monument.”
The president has authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate national monuments, and he has created eight of them while in office. Democrats have cheered Obama’s designations, while Republicans generally have bristled at some of his unilateral actions.
“Sneaking around in the dark without any public input is a lousy practice and not the way representative government is supposed to work,” Bishop said in a statement. “If it is good for the country and the land, do it in the light of day through the congressional process with public input.
“This type of behavior is purely insulting to Congress and the people we represent,” he said.
Bishop said he hoped administration officials would back away from the Nevada proposal, as they did in 2010 following the leak of an Interior Department memo that discussed possible national monument designations in 11 western states.
If not, “this underscores the need for Congress to put a check on this executive abuse,” he said. “This will be pursued.”
Parish Braden, communications director for the Natural Resources Committee, said Bishop plans to start by requesting more information from the Obama administration on the proposal.
Beyond that, Braden said, “All options remain on the table.”
Nevada Republican lawmakers introduced legislation earlier this year that would require congressional action to create national monuments in the state. That is what happened last year when Congress created the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in northern Clark County.
But there has been no sign of local consensus for a large-scale land withdrawal in Lincoln and Nye counties, and the same for the Gold Butte region of eastern Clark County that also has been mentioned as a possible monument area.
Last year, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill that would require environmental studies before land in presidentially designated national monuments could be permanently withdrawn. It did not pass the Senate.
Public land bills are notoriously difficult to pass through Congress as they usually involve a broad range of stakeholders with sometimes widely divergent goals and interests. There is little expectation lawmakers will act on national monument bills this year.
The area being considered for the Basin and Range National Monument consists of Garden Valley and Coal Valley, separated by the Golden Gate Range and including the Mount Irish Range, the Seaman Range and the Worthington Mountains. The draft proclamation called that area “one of the largest ecologically intact landscapes in the Great Basin region.”
The advocacy group Protect Basin and Range circulated testimonials on Friday supporting a monument designation for the area, which includes “City,” an earthen sculpture by artist Michael Heizer said to be one of the largest pieces of art ever created.
Sig Rogich, president of Las Vegas-based Rogich Communications Group, said preservation for the region was discussed in the late 1980s when he worked as a White House media adviser.
“As I did in my days in the White House as an assistant to George H. W. Bush, I fully support preservation of the … Basin and Range landscape, which contains many petroglyphs and archaeological sites,” Rogich said.
“Conservation and preservation of this area will not only be great for our state and our economy today, but for generations to come,” he said.
Contact Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow @STetreaultDC on Twitter.