Rio Grande del Norte, one of America's newest National Monuments
Officials who are in DC to celebrate economic benefits of national monuments to be visible at House hearing
This week, a diverse, bipartisan group of mayors, county commissioners and business owners are in Washington, DC to thank the Obama administration for designating national monuments in their communities and spread the word that monuments are an important boost to local economies. These individuals, from as far away as Washington State and California, came to remind people in the nation’s capital that monuments matter.
The new monuments had strong local input from the local communities, and many came after years of efforts to preserve these places. Despite this support, some in Congress are bent on dismantling the law that allowed designation of these areas – the Antiquities Act. At a hearing today of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, members of Congress considered several bills to make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for the president to use this tool to safeguard areas as natural treasures or cultural or historic landmarks.
“The dramatic disconnect between Washington, D.C. and the rest of the country could not be clearer,” said Michael Whiting, a Commissioner from Archuleta County, CO where Chimney Rock National Monument is located. “Dozens of elected officials and business leaders travelled to Washington because national monuments matter to our communities and to the millions of Americans we represent. Back in our hometowns, national monument designations have protected the places where American families love to relax and recreate, while generating tens of millions of dollars in economic growth and creating tens of thousands of jobs. Yet here in Washington, the same politicians who have been gridlocking Congress for years are trying to make it harder for other American communities to enjoy the same benefits.”
Established in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents -- from Theodore Roosevelt to George W. Bush -- to designate national monuments. Given that the 112th Congress was the first since World War II not to protect a single new acre of public land as a park, wilderness area or national monument, local communities are asking President Obama to protect the places they love.
“We have seen first-hand the enormous benefit the Antiquities Act can have on the cultural and economic health of a community. There are cases like ours in which waiting for Congress to act is not logistically feasible and could result in destruction of vitally important historic assets and natural resources,” said Hampton, Virginia Mayor Molly Ward, who testified about the economic benefits from Fort Monroe National Monument.
The fly-in demonstrates the increasingly diverse voices – small businesses, sportsmen, African American and Latino communities, veterans – are calling on Washington to do more to protect our shared public lands on the heels of one of the greatest land conservation achievement in Barack Obama’s presidency.
“The celebrations that we’ve seen in New Mexico, Washington State, Ohio, Delaware, and Maryland over the weeks following President Obama’s historic new monument designations are only going to continue as communities join ours in seeing new jobs and new opportunities arise from protecting our natural legacy,” said Gabe Vasquez, former Executive Director of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce de Las Cruces, who is in town to celebrate the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and advocate for the citizen-driven proposal to protect Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in southern New Mexico. “Now, the only question is whether Congress will get in the way or get on board.”
Unlike the nine national monuments designated by President Obama, the bills before the House Subcommittee today to strip power from the president to designate monuments s were introduced without local input and dialogue.