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U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposes secretive monument actions

WASHINGTON — Westerners aren't the only ones upset about secretive talks by the Obama administration to create new national monuments. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is, too, and it seeks to require congressional approval of any future monuments.

The chamber, the world's largest business federation representing more than 3 million businesses, wrote this week to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to express concern about leaked documents showing the administration has considered up to 14 new monuments in the West, including two in Utah in the San Rafael Swell and at Cedar Mesa.

It called for "robust public input" before any monument designation. It said pristine areas can still be protected "while ensuring that issues like domestic energy production, pipelines and transmission corridors, job creation, and public access to federal lands are fully considered."

The chamber said presidents have abused the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows them to create monuments without congressional approval. It said the law was "designed to protect small acres of land and specific items of archaeological, scientific or historic importance" that face imminent threats.

Instead, the chamber said presidents have sometimes created vast national monuments in areas that faced no threats, or were much larger than the "smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected," as the law says.

It said the worst example may have been Bill Clinton's surprise creation of the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument during the 1996 election year. His administration insisted no action was imminent until the day before he created the monument.

"This designation ultimately cost Utah billions in potential revenue because rich coal deposits, coal-bed methane resources, oil, gas and nonfuel minerals within the designated area could no longer be developed," the letter from chamber executive vice president R. Bruce Josten said.

It added that the chamber urges Congress to change the law "to require congressional approval of any proclamations" for new national monuments. It said that would "ensure that the concerns of interested stakeholders will be heard."

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, thanked the chamber for its support.

"Western states have already suffered this past year from the administration's anti-energy, land-hungry policies, which have locked up sweeping swatch of land and put thousands out of work," he said.

Bishop and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, have introduced legislation to exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has told Utah Gov. Gary Herbert that public consultation would occur before formation of any new monuments. Salazar said the documents leaked reflected brainstorming sessions about how to protect pristine areas, and not firm plans.

This story was reported from Salt Lake City.