Rehberg seeks to amend the Antiquities Act
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Contention over possible creation of new national monuments has ratcheted up a level, with Montana's member of the U.S. House of Representatives s e e k i n g t o change the 1906 act that a l l ows t h e president to create them.
Rep. Denny R e h b e r g , R-Mont., has cosponsored a bill that he said would modernize the 1906 Antiquities Act to meet public expectations of transparency and accountability.
"Montanans expect and deserve a new level of government transparency that wasn' t possible when the Antiquities Act was first created more than a century ago," Rehberg said.
The announcement came after further discussion of an internal Department of Interior memorandum that Rehberg says shows the department intends to declare some 13 million acres of land, including in Montana, national monuments.
The Department of the Interior denies that claim.
The Antiquities Act sets punishments for people who take or damage "any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity" on federally owned land, and lets the president declare areas containing "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" national monuments. It also allows the president to reserve sections of land owned by state governments or private citizens to become part of the monument if its owner wishes to transfer ownership to the U.S. government.
The issue was a headliner in Mo n t a n a 1 0 years ago when
o u t g o i n g President Bill Clinton declared a national monument on the Upper Missouri River Breaks.
The monument included 377,000 acres of federal l a n d a n d Reserved 80,000 acres of private land and 40,000 acres of state land to become part of the monument if the owners sold the property to the federal government.
Rehberg stepped in then as well, sending a letter to the secretary of the Department of Interior asking that the boundaries be redrawn to exclude private land from the monument. That did not happen.
Last week, Rehberg joined 11 of his Republican colleagues in the House in sponsoring the National Monument Designation Transparency and Accountability Act.
The act would require a public hearing to be held after a president announces a monument declaration and that information be provided to Congress, which must approve the designation within two years or the property will revert back from its monument status.
Rehberg in March this year also sponsored a bill that would prevent the president from declaring monuments inside Montana, which would make it the only state aside from Wyoming with that exclusion.
Wyoming was excluded some 60 years ago after an outcry about designation of a monument. The monument designation was not overturned by Congress — no presidentially declared monument has been — but the state was excluded from presidential monument declarations.
The Department of Interior memorandum about potential monument sites has been coming up repeatedly this year.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the document being referenced was an internal memo for discussion purposes and does not show land for which the Interior Department is planning to push for monument designation.
He said again last week that his department has no intention to declare monuments in opposition to public wishes.
"As long as I am Secretary of the Interior, there will be no recommendation for designation of national monuments in Montana unless there is significant public involvement, discussion and debate over any such proposal," Salazar said in a letter to Montana's U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.
In testimony before a Senate committee last week, Salazar attributed the continued focus on the memo and the Antiquities Act to people "fanning the flames." Salazar sent the letter to Tester to clarify his department's position following his testimony June 21, Tester said in a press release.
Rehberg issued a statement June 23 in response to Salazar's statements.
"In the closing hours of the Clinton Administration, federal bureaucrats locked up tens of thousands of acres in Montana as a national monument," Rehberg said. "At the time, officials also claimed to have listened to Montanans prior to making that decision — a decision that ultimately was very controversial in Montana. So forgive me for continuing to be very skeptical of Washington bureaucrats who claim to know what's best for Montana."