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Monday, October 22, 2012

National Monuments and the Antiquities Act

Carol Hardy Vincent
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Kristina Alexander
Legislative Attorney

The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the President to proclaim national monuments on federal lands that contain historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, or other objects of historic or scientific interest. The President is to reserve “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” The act was designed to protect federal lands and resources quickly, and Presidents have proclaimed a total of 132 monuments. Congress has modified many of these proclamations and has abolished some monuments. Congress also has created monuments under its own authority.

Presidential establishment of monuments sometimes has been contentious—for example, President Franklin Roosevelt’s creation of the Jackson Hole National Monument in Wyoming (1943); President Carter’s massive Alaskan withdrawals (1978); and President Clinton’s establishment of 19 monuments and enlargement of three others (1996-2001). In early 2010, an Obama Administration draft document regarding possible monument designations renewed controversy over the Antiquities Act, although the President cited support for his four subsequent monument designations in 2011 and 2012.

Issues have included the size of the areas and types of resources protected; the effects of monument designation on land uses; the level and types of threats to the areas; the inclusion of nonfederal lands within monument boundaries; the act’s limited process compared with the public participation and environmental review aspects of other laws; and the agency managing the monument.

Opponents have sought to revoke or limit the President’s authority to proclaim monuments. The 112th Congress is currently considering proposals to limit the President’s authority to create monuments. Some bills would block monuments from being declared by the President in a particular state—H.R. 845 (Montana); H.R. 846 (Idaho); H.R. 2147 and S. 1182 (Utah); H.R. 2877 (Arizona); and H.R. 3292, S. 144, and S. 1554 (Nevada). One bill, S. 2473, would require the consent of the pertinent state legislature to establish a national monument. Another bill—H.R. 302—would require approval by the pertinent state legislature and governor before a monument was proclaimed by the President. Others—H.R. 817, S. 122, and S. 927—would require congressional approval. Two other bills, H.R. 758 and S. 407, would require congressional approval and also would create procedures for the President and the Secretary of the Interior to follow before the President could designate a monument. H.R. 4089, which passed the House on April 17, 2012, would restrict the President’s authority to designate national monuments by requiring approval of a monument proclamation by the pertinent governor and state legislature.

Monument supporters favor the Antiquities Act in its present form, asserting that the public and the courts have upheld monument designations and that many past designations that initially were controversial have come to be supported. They contend that the President needs continued authority to act promptly to protect valuable resources on federal lands from potential threats.

Date of Report: October 12, 2012
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R41330
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