Our national morale has undoubtedly taken a hit from the lingering recession, but would we be willing to surrender national monuments to get back on track? Proponents of a new bill argue that protecting sometimes arbitrarily large heritage sites can stifle local economies; but would such a move run the risk of voting down the next Statue of Liberty?
Recently, GOP lawmakers representing several Western states have been on the attack, attempting to pass a bill that would allow Congress to veto the President’s designation of a national monument. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho; Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah; and Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont. argue that The Antiquities Act of 1906 undermines states' rights to their own soil at a time when local industries are scrambling to recover from the recession. The conversation hinges on a question: would local communities benefit more from the arrival of new industry or new monuments?
The bill's backers dispute the claim that new monuments result in long-term economic growth, citing the wide array of jobs created from land-dependent industries such as coal-mining or logging. However, many simply stress states' desire to retain control of their own land and resources. Rep. Wally Herger, a Republican from Northern California, told the Miami Herald that, "In the face of severe economic challenges, we need to reform crippling government policies and regulations so that local communities can utilize their natural resources and prosper."
Opponents of the bill stress that the GOP is merely looking for a short-term solution to the ongoing problem of job scarcity. They argue that the improvement in quality of life brought on by new monuments is actually better in the long-term. Bobby McEnaney, a land policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, believes this is more about giving states free reign to extract natural resources than reestablishing rights. "I think we can respect the idea that Westerners have a say in these lands," he told the Herald, "but that's not what these bills do. They favor one use of the land over other uses."
Opposition from liberal environmental agencies in New York and other states was to be expected, but the GOP did not foresee resistance coming from within its own party. The Salt Lake Tribune recounts the story of Phillip and Sarah Carlson, a Republican couple from Salt Lake City, Utah who frequent the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument and say that their leaders would be better off rethinking their stance. The couple are attempting to organize a chapter of the national Republicans for Environmental Protection, citing a new study as proof that national monuments leave a lasting positive impact on surrounding communities.
The study, from Headwaters Economics, a nonpartisan research firm based in Montana, details 17 Western national monuments that were shown to stimulate growth in jobs as well as other local economic indicators. "While this does not demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship, this finding shows that national monuments are consistent with economic growth in adjacent local communities." In the case of Cibola County, New Mexico, the community actually experienced a reversal in declining economic trends after the designation of the El Malpais National Monument.
Economic factors being equal, the value of the cultural landmarks is rarely disputed. As Carlson told the Salt Lake Tribune, “I’m sure glad we’ve got it, and we don’t have an oil rig going up behind Delicate Arch.”