WASHINGTON -– A group of 109 Democratic House members is urging the Obama administration to use its executive authority to protect new public land.
Under the Antiquities Act, the president can designate new national monuments without waiting for Congress to act. President Barack Obama has designated nine new monuments during his presidency. Congress, meanwhile, has gone a record amount of time without granting new protections for wilderness or other public land. The last congressional designation was in 2009.
“In today’s deeply partisan environment, it’s becoming nearly impossible for Congress to make critical conservation decisions," the House members, led by House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Public Lands Subcommittee ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. "The 112th Congress was the first Congress in 40 years that failed to permanently protect any of America’s treasured landscapes. The current Congress is on a path to repeat that abysmal record."
The letter notes that the House Natural Resources Committee had hearings on eight of 37 proposed land designations in the 113th Congress, and only one was passed in the House. "With only 121 legislative days scheduled for 2014, the time to act is running out," the members said in a statement.
Jewell increased the pressure on Congress to act on new land protections in a speech last November. "Congress needs to get moving to pass dozens of locally supported bills," Jewell said. "If Congress doesn't step up to act to protect some of these areas that have been brought forward by communities, then the president will act.