Obama must keep his hands off western lands in his final days
First printed in the Washington Examiner.
President Theodore Roosevelt knew something about the western United States. "We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received," he once said, "and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."
The United States' natural heritage belongs to its people. They must care for it and use it fruitfully in pursuit of a better world.
But President Obama, using the Antiquities Act, has cordoned off more than 550 million acres of land and water from productive use, declaring a total of 29 monuments during his time as president. Every acre of locked-up land and water comes at the expense of those living in the local communities, people who use the land responsibly to make a living.
The Antiquities Act was meant to protect the treasure of our natural heritage while allowing us to wisely use the resources with which God has blessed us.
Unfortunately, the president chose to charge forward with these declarations assuming Congress has no interest in the stewardship of our lands and waters.
This is simply untrue. Congress has a long history of balancing conservation with resource use and development.
Americans, especially the Coloradans who I represent in the Fourth Congressional District, recognize that the best stewards of land are the people who live on them and use them every day.
But the president and his team now use the Antiquities Act to instead place bureaucrats in control of millions of acres of our heartland and seas.
Their actions fly in the face of the actual intent of the Antiquities Act. Roosevelt designated the first national monument under the legislation in 1906 when he set aside Devils Tower in Wyoming. The original intent of the Antiquities Act was to stop the destruction of natural resources and to set aside, "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest … in the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of objects."
In setting aside 550 million acres over the course of eight years, Obama's use of the Antiquities Act hardly complies with the "smallest area compatible" requirement of the 1906 law.
His designations are enormously expensive. Local economies lose out on valuable natural resources. Aside from the added personnel costs, our government owes payments in lieu of taxes to compensate local governments for the tax revenue they would gain through the productive use of their lands, if those lands weren't restricted by the federal government.
Even worse, many of his designations went against the wishes of the officials elected to represent those regions of the country. In Utah, county leaders, state legislators, Gov. Gary Herbert and the entire congressional delegation opposed the recent monument designation. They tried to make the voices of their constituents heard, but Obama ignored their pleadings.
Shamefully, Obama is considering even more designations in his final days in office. Under a 110-year-old law, our country's natural resource policies are being dictated to us. That's not how democracy works, though. If Obama wants to violate the letter and spirit of the Antiquities Act, he needs to ask Congress first. Congress' response would be an emphatic, "No."
I'm hopeful the 115th Congress and President-elect Trump will work to improve the Antiquities Act and rein in presidential overreach through congressional action.
Already in this first week of the 115th Congress, the new Republican majority has made empowering local communities a priority. The House streamlined the process for members of Congress to return federal lands to state and local governments, giving Americans control of what happens in their backyards. For a state like Colorado, where 36 percent of our land is owned by the federal government, we could stand to return at least some portion back to the residents of the state.
Everyone in Washington should remember the words of Roosevelt, the president who originally signed the Antiquities Act: "The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased; and not impaired in value."
Rather than setting our country off-limits to our children, let's wisely steward our lands and resources, and teach them the same.
Congressman Ken Buck represents the Fourth District of Colorado in the United States House of Representatives.