WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Hansen announced Thursday that Republicans will again push to greatly restrict a president's power to create national monuments.
Hansen, R-Utah, chairman of the House Resources Committee, said he worries that "abuses" of that power by former President Bill Clinton could be easily repeated by future presidents unless Congress limits that power while it has a chance.
Clinton had vowed to veto similar legislation pushed by Hansen in recent years, which helped block its final passage. But the new Bush administration may be more receptive to it.
That announcement came as Hansen testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law. It has been concerned not only about Clinton's national monuments, but his controversial pardons and other executive orders.
Hansen said a resources subcommittee should debate next week a bill by him and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, that would limit the size of monuments that a president can create to 50,000 acres.
It would also require 60 days of consultation with state and local leaders before a president could declare such a monument.
"I believe this legislation is essential to the proper balance of authority," Hansen said, adding he hopes to "prevent these abuses in future administrations, whether they be Republican or Democratic."
Hansen said the worst abuse by Clinton of the Antiquities Act of 1906 was his secretive creation in 1996 of the vast, 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument in Utah.
He noted no Utahns heard about it until 10 days before it was created — and then only by reading a story in the Washington Post. "We were (then) told that nothing was imminent and that these were just ideas being kicked around," Hansen said.
The administration never acknowledged it was creating the monument until 1 a.m. the day it was formed. Hansen said that documents the House later subpoenaed showed the monument had been planned for months, and secrecy was urged to prevent it being blocked.
Hansen said that flies in the face of democracy. "We should be very hesitant to praise a preferred outcome when the process required to achieve it places our freedoms in jeopardy," he said.
Hansen then unsuccessfully sought to restrict a president's right to create monuments. "President Clinton was undeterred by opposition to his use of the Antiquities Act, creating two more monuments and two expansions . . . with eight of those coming in the final week."
Hansen said that when Congress debated creating the Antiquities Act in 1906, it was in response to looting of some ancient Indian cliff dwellings.
He said it debated whether to allow the president to protect 320 or 640 acres at a time but instead settled on language limiting monuments "to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the areas to be protected."
Hansen said Clinton ignored that with his vast monuments. He said several other laws have been enacted to protect large areas, including the Wilderness Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. He said use of them instead of the Antiquities Act would ensure public involvement on public lands policy.
Hansen has also asked House members whose districts include Clinton monuments to recommend whether they should be reworked or even have some boundaries erased.