SALT LAKE CITY — Presidents would be prohibited from creating or expanding a national monument in Utah without approval from Congress and the state Legislature under a bill Sen. Mike Lee has introduced.
The Utah Republican said the legislation would protect the state from presidential "abuses" of the Antiquities Act, and safeguard Utah in much the same way as Alaska and Wyoming.
"Unfortunately, what was once a narrowly targeted tool for preventing looting on federal lands has become a weapon urban elites use against hard-working rural Americans," Lee said.
Ashley Soltysiak, director of the Sierra Club's Utah chapter, called the bill "incredibly shortsighted” and another "baseless attack" on the Antiquities Act that would undermine future public lands policy in the state.
Four of Utah's national parks — Zion, Bryce, Arches and Capitol Reef — started as national monuments, she said.
"By limiting the use of the Antiquities Act by future presidents to be able to designate some of these incredible areas that our state has to offer, we really sell all Americans short of being able to have amazing historic and cultural experiences," Soltysiak said.
Lee's Protecting Utah’s Rural Economy Act comes after President Donald Trump drastically reduced the sizes of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments.
"Rural Americans want what all Americans want: a dignified, decent-paying job, a family to love and support, and a healthy community whose future is determined by local residents — not their self-styled betters thousands of miles away,” Lee said.
Former President Barack Obama create the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears monument in southeastern Utah in 2016 under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law allowing presidents to designate national monuments to protect natural, cultural or scientific features.
Lee at the time called it an "arrogant" move by a lame duck president and vowed to work with Congress and the Trump administration to undo the designation.
In a December 2017 visit to Utah, Trump cut tens of thousands of acres in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, saying past administrations severely abused the Antiquities Act. Those decisions are being challenged in federal court.
Lee said the act was originally intended to protect objects of historic and cultural interest like artifacts and religious sites. He said his bill would give Utah's rural communities a voice in local land management policies, "a voice they currently do not have today."
Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature passed a resolution supporting the state being exempt from the Antiquities Act.
Last fall, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, introduced a bill to limit monument designations under the act to 640 acres, which he said mirrors of the intent of Congress when it passed the law in 1906. The measure proposed additional requirements for larger designations.
Presidential power under the Antiquities Act has been reduced twice.
The 1950 law that incorporated Jackson Hole into an enlarged Grand Teton National Monument also amended the law to require congressional consent for any future creation or enlargement of national monuments.
The second followed then-President Jimmy Carter's use of the act to create 56 million acres of national monuments in Alaska. Congress passed a law requiring its approval of the use of the act in Alaska for areas greater than 5,000 acres
Soltysiak said the Sierra Club want to see the laws regarding Wyoming and Alaska reversed. She said those situations involved massive amounts of federal land and were much different than the one in Utah where "we've seen the complete gutting of two of our national monuments."