National Monuments

Let's Halt Antiquities Act Abuse

The Antiquities Act has become a tool for presidents to secure their legacies with special interests.

|

Last week, President Trump signed an executive order requiring a review of the much-abused Antiquities Act. And for good reason. The past two presidents have run wild with the law.

President Obama, most recently, designated more national monuments covering a larger area than any prior president, more than 550 million acres, tripling the nation's total monuments area.

Before the ink on the executive order was dry, outdoor gear company Patagonia threatened to sue the President if he rescinds or shrinks an existing monument designation.

Patagonia's threat shouldn't surprise. Outdoor gear companies like Patagonia receive a huge implicit subsidy through federal land policies, according to Terry Anderson of the free-market Property and Environment Research Center.

The federal government spends millions every year to support recreation on federal lands, without earning much revenue in return. The government doesn't charge backpackers, campers, and hikers the cost of setting aside the lands they use or the cost of maintaining them. Consequently, according to a PERC study, the government returns less than thirty cents for every dollar it spends subsidizing regulation. And it has a $19 billion backlog for deferred maintenance.

Corporations like Patagonia, however, are raking it in. The outdoor recreation industry generates about $120 billion per year in revenues. As more wilderness areas are set aside, more wealthy and healthy people buy more outdoor gear. It's understandable these companies would be committed to setting aside more and more land—doing so increases their subsidy.

But Patagonia's claim that President Trump has no authority to reconsider or redraw the boundaries of existing monuments is flat out wrong. A recent study by Professor John Yoo and Pacific Legal Foundation's Todd Gaziano explains that the president has the same broad discretion to reconsider past monument designations as to create new ones.

Several presidents have significantly reduced the size of established monuments. Shortly after the Antiquities Act was enacted, for instance, President Taft reduced the size of the Navajo National Monument by nearly 90 percent.

The President's review of recent monuments is likely to turn up many questionable designations. The Antiquities Act has become so notorious for abuse the TV show The West Wing built an episode around it. Recent real-world examples do not disappoint.

The Antiquities Act limits monument designations to "lands owned or controlled by the Federal government." Yet presidents Bush and Obama designated huge monuments in the ocean, far from our nation's coasts.

In the last year of his term, President Obama designated a monument as large as the entire state of Connecticut more than one hundred miles off the coast from New England. He expanded a monument surrounding Hawaii to more than twice the size of Texas.

In March, during House Committee on Natural Resources, Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., asked how ocean monuments could be legal when the statute expressly says "lands." Graves is still waiting for an answer.

Pacific Legal Foundation is representing fishing groups from throughout the northeast challenging the monument in the Atlantic Ocean. Our case argues the monument is not only clearly unlawful, but its size undermines sustainable fishing and threatens to undermine conservation.

Although the Antiquities Act requires that land monuments be limited to "the smallest area" possible, monuments are routinely huge. President Trump's call for review was motivated, in part, by strong local opposition to President Obama's designation of 1.35 million acres around Bears Ears National Monument in his last few weeks in office.

The original intent of the Antiquities Act was to protect antiquities and historic structures. When it was enacted in 1906, Congress acted out of reasonable fears of looting Indian ruins on federal lands in the southwest. We've veered far from that intent.

Today, the Antiquities Act is primarily a means for presidents to unilaterally to lock up huge areas, securing their legacies with special interests like environmental groups and the outdoor companies like Patagonia.

NEXT: Trump May Dabble in Deregulation, But He Doesn't Believe in Free Markets

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The Antiquities Act has been abused from the beginning.

    No one seriously challenged Teddy about it so he basically set the precedent.

    1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

      This is what I do..,.,.,.,.,. http://www.careerstoday100.com

    2. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

      This is what I do..,.,.,.,., http://www.careerstoday100.com

  2. By “antiquities” I thought they were talking about Hillary haw haw haw!

  3. How much would be stolen if the feds were required to make it accessible to everyone, as required by the ADA?
    You know, paths and trails paved for wheelchairs, slopes restricted to 4% grade, hand rails, and all that jazz. Isn’t the government supposed to be for ALL the people?

    1. Or add Transgender-friendly Bushes(*) to do your ‘business’ without fear of judgment?

  4. Couldn’t Patagonia buy the land if the antiquities act abuse is cut back?

    Oh, they don’t want to spend THEIR money.

    Nice.

    Hint to Leftists: This is not what capitalism is.

  5. The antiquities it was actually supposed to protect were those Congresscritters who had been in office so long they turned into antiques themselves.

  6. The article mentions corporations like Patagonia are raking it in… as more wealthy and healthy people buy outdoor gear. What has the Antiquities Act have to do with this? The land is vacant and already owned by the Federal government. People are going to visit these lands and buy gear regardless of whether there is an Antiquities Act

    1. A lot of “unprotected” federal land is used for commercial purposes like grazing and drilling. It’s just a different crony-capitalist ripoff.

      1. Those uses do not as far as I know preclude other concurrent uses except perhaps in the immediate vicinity of a mine or drilling rig.

        Boondocking, hiking, hunting, and whatnot occur on grazed land all the time.

        You just close the gate behind you when you come in.

        The monument designation not only closes off a lot of commercial activity, but greatly restricts recreational activity as well.

  7. Professor John Yoo

    This is the jerk who put his name on memos defending waterboarding as legal. Whether he is legally right is irrelevant, the man is toxic. Don’t refer to him for any case you actually care about.

  8. How does Patagonia’s profiting from market conditions it sees in some way nefarious? They can sue anyone they have standing to sue if they want. They’re spending their own money. The land belongs to the citizens, and if the current use of it produces an opportunity for an outdoor company to profit, that doesn’t cost the rest of us squat. Whatever the government spends on land management is not connected to Patagonia or anyone else’s company. The government sets the budget they think is appropriate. Outdoor companies don’t owe Uncle Sam because they’ve filled a market need. None of that has jack shit to do with the Antiquities Act. Straw men are easy to vilify, but if the law is the problem, don’t blame outdoor manufacturers for supporting something that improves their outlook. What do you think they’d support?? It’s simple economics for them.

    1. if the law is the problem, don’t blame outdoor manufacturers for supporting something that improves their outlook

      They’re threatening to sue over the potential execution of a Presidential power that the company is falsely claiming the President has no authority to execute. We can certainly criticize them for being ignorant of the law in the face of a possible hit to their bottom line.

    2. They’re spending their own money. The land belongs to the citizens, and if the current use of it produces an opportunity for an outdoor company to profit, that doesn’t cost the rest of us squat.

      Their lawsuit over a President reversing an abuse of power does cost us “squat”. Patagonia, if the designation is removed, is more than capable of buying the land themselves. Why should I have to continue to support land that the government shouldn’t have to improve that company’s bottom line?

      None of that has jack shit to do with the Antiquities Act.

      Trump’s actions that they are threatening suits over specifically deals with it.

      Straw men are easy to vilify, but if the law is the problem, don’t blame outdoor manufacturers for supporting something that improves their outlook. What do you think they’d support?? It’s simple economics for them.

      And we should accept it…why? I don’t see a need to financially support a boon to a large outdoors company.

  9. This is where I differ from libertarian orthodoxy, I’m actually glad there are those who have the foresight to set aside lands for everyone’s use. If not, Yosemite Valley would be a private golf community, the Grand Canyon would be the world’s largest reservoir and California wouldn’t have a single giant redwood tree left standing. Citizens benefit as well as corporations, just ask those folks who reside in gateway towns if they have an issue with federally-protected lands in their backyard. Case in point, citizens in Seward, AK burned Jimmy Carter in effigy immediately after his signing of Kenai Fjords National Park, now it’s their number one revenue source. Strange how things turn around. And restricting mineral extraction, etc. benefits everyone in the long run as well. No one spends their hard-earned vacation dollars to see defunct oil rigs, spent uranium mines, or dried up fracking wells. Eco-tourism will benefit these local communities for time immemorial. Now go find your park!

    1. This article is about the Antiquities act which is a law that allows the President to on his own reclassify lands as National Monuments with no Congressional stamp of approval needed.

      The purpose of this law was for “emergency cases” when time was of the essence (newly discovered archaeological discoveries were often looted days/weeks after discovery) so these lands would be ‘protected’ giving Congress the time necessary to weigh in on permanently designating those lands as protected areas or removing the Presidents declaration of protection. (Lets for the moment suspend reality and pretend that passing a law or signing a decree magically ceases despoiling action from those less reputable)

      These lands that Obama in particular set aside were not impending doom, but rather lands that Congress is routinely presented with bills to declare them as Monuments or Parks, and Congress is routinely rejecting by vote or inaction.

      They are lands that have been kept for over a hundred years, and regular recreation and commerce had been occurring on these lands. The ‘despoilers’ (miners, drillers, lumber companies and such) were not swooping in by night to do ill deeds, they are applying for permits and going through the entire regulatory process. They conduct their activities in the open, report archaeological finds, etc. Basically a completely different situation than in 1906.

    2. California wouldn’t have a single giant redwood tree left standing

      Because wood companies have zero interest in keeping themselves in business by, you know, planting trees.

      “But we wouldn’t have these big fucking trees”. Somehow, I bet we’d survive.

      Case in point, citizens in Seward, AK burned Jimmy Carter in effigy immediately after his signing of Kenai Fjords National Park, now it’s their number one revenue source.

      So, they took a lemon and made lemonade. Good for them.

      This isn’t really a defense of abusing an idiotic law.

      Why not let, you know, states decide what is a monument in the state?

      And restricting mineral extraction, etc. benefits everyone in the long run as well. No one spends their hard-earned vacation dollars to see defunct oil rigs, spent uranium mines, or dried up fracking wells.

      Without those, people aren’t paying to go on vacation in the first place.

    3. This is too moronic for words….

  10. oh, thank for the info
    California wouldn’t have a single giant redwood tree left standing

    Because wood companies have zero interest in keeping themselves in business by, you know, planting trees.

    “But we wouldn’t have these big fucking trees”. Somehow, I bet we’d survive.

    Case in point, citizens in Seward, AK burned Jimmy Carter in effigy immediately after his signing of Kenai Fjords National Park, now it’s their number one revenue source.
    —-
    https://xuongthungcarton.com

    1. http://xemiennam.net
      http://xemiennam.net/bang-gia-xe-hino.html
      oh, thank for the info
      California wouldn’t have a single giant redwood tree left standing

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.