Today, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1459, Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments (EPIC) Act with a vote of 222-201. The Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) applaud this action to give local governments, ranchers and other stakeholders a voice in the national monument designation process.
Introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), this bill would prevent the President from making vast, unilateral special land designations without thorough public review of the potential environmental, social and economic impacts.
Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, as interpreted today, the President has the unfettered authority to make "national monument" designations. The EPIC Act would amend the Antiquities Act to require potential monument designations of 5,000 acres or more are given full review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA reviews include in-depth analysis of the impacts of a proposed action, as well as the opportunity for local government and public involvement in the decision-making process.
While intended to protect small, defined areas that are historically or scientifically unique and important, abuse of the Antiquities Act by Presidents has led to vast monument designations that are outside the original intent of the law. Large monument designations have had devastating impacts on local economies and culture due to the restrictions they place on productive uses of the land. Applying NEPA to large proposed designations would ensure that the public was made aware of those impacts and give the opportunity for input.
Currently, minor federal agency decisions regarding livestock grazing are subject NEPA analysis, but national monument designations that could encompass millions of acres are not. Brice Lee, Colorado rancher and president of PLC, said the EPIC Act would rectify this inequity.
"This legislation will help protect our members’ livelihoods by preventing rash, oversized national monument designations that impose new regulations and restrictions on multiple uses such as livestock grazing," said Lee. "The Antiquities Act is being abused and utilized to subvert the role of our elected representatives in making impactful decisions on the management of our federal lands. Congress enacted this law with the best of intentions—now it must be fixed to respond to the continued abuse."
The EPIC Act would also allow a President no more than one monument designation per state, per term. While it would not require NEPA review for designations smaller than 5,000 acres, it would place a 3-year expiration date on those designations unless the designation is approved by Congress. Additionally, it would require any monument designation to be followed by a study estimating long-term management costs and potential loss in federal and state revenue. Finally, it would not allow monuments to include private property without the informed written consent of the affected private property owner.
NCBA President Bob McCan added that the negative impacts of monument designations on ranchers has unintended consequences, not just for local economies but for the environment as well.
"Grazing encourages healthy plant growth, cuts down on fuel loads that lead to catastrophic wildfires, and supplies water sources to wildlife. Keeping ranchers in business is good policy for conservation of both private and public land," the Texas cattleman said. "By preventing unilateral de facto wilderness designations by the executive branch, the EPIC Act will promote greater stability for the livestock industry. It is common sense and only fair to hold the President to the same standards that all other agencies and entities must live by when they make decisions on behalf of the federal government."
PLC and NCBA encourage the Senate to take up the bill without delay.
Source: National Cattlemen’s Beef Association