Trump’s bow to the peo­ple

His or­der to re­view how land is taken for pub­lic mon­u­ments is long over­due

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY -

The An­tiq­ui­ties Act of 1906 was a splen­did idea. The Act was in­tended to give pres­i­dents lim­ited au­thor­ity — em­pha­sis on the word “lim­ited” — to des­ig­nate unique and spe­cial land­marks, such as a nat­u­ral arch, breath­tak­ing mesas or an an­cient cliff dwelling that de­serves to be pre­served for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Cer­tain pres­i­dents have abused this au­thor­ity and seized mil­lions of acres of pri­vate land for fed­eral reg­u­la­tion. Barack Obama used the Act 27 times, more than any other pres­i­dent.

Pres­i­dent Trump or­dered In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke to re­view dozens of na­tional mon­u­ments to de­ter­mine whether such des­ig­na­tions im­posed since 1996 have gone above and be­yond the lim­its of the An­tiq­ui­ties Act, and whether Congress should re­form the Act to pre­vent fur­ther pres­i­den­tial abuse. “To­day,” the pres­i­dent says, “we are putting the states back in charge.”

Mr. Trump was per­suaded that re­form is nec­es­sary by the seizure last year of more than a mil­lion acres in south­east­ern Utah for the Bears Ears Na­tional Mon­u­ment, twin buttes that tower over a rugged land­scape of jagged red rocks. Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites de­tail­ing the his­tory of the land’s an­cient in­hab­i­tants abound in the area. Barack Obama set aside more than a mil­lion acres with his or­der just as he was leav­ing the White House with the stroke of his pen, to the ap­plause of rad­i­cal left-wing preser­va­tion­ist groups that won’t be sat­is­fied un­til no pri­vately held land is left any­where. From the peo­ple who live in Utah, not so much.

The Utah con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion had worked with res­i­dents, In­dian tribes and state gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to de­velop a plan to pre­serve the land, a con­sen­sus forged in hun­dreds of meet­ings over three years. “In good faith,” says Sen. Or­rin Hatch, the Republican se­nior sen­a­tor from Utah, in an op-ed news­pa­per es­say, “we co­or­di­nated with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama . . . but in the twi­light hours of his pres­i­dency he be­trayed us, for­go­ing our grass-roots ef­fort in fa­vor of a top­down mon­u­ment des­ig­na­tion un­prece­dented in size and scope . . . He ig­nored the best in­ter­ests of Utah and cast aside the will of the peo­ple — all in fa­vor of a uni­lat­eral ap­proach meant to sat­isfy the de­mands of far-left in­ter­est groups.”

Mr. Hatch and Mike Lee, the other Utah sen­a­tor, pro­posed leg­is­la­tion last year to re­quire state ap­proval and con­gres­sional au­tho­riza­tion be­fore new na­tional mon­u­ments can be de­clared on fed­eral land and wa­ter. The bill failed, but the con­tro­versy grew and con­tro­versy will no doubt sur­vive Pres­i­dent Trump’s or­der. The Obama seizure was taken at the be­hest of five In­dian tribes claim­ing an­ces­tral and spir­i­tual ties to the area. Ex­ist­ing rights to drill, mine and graze the land would be pre­served, but only un­der fed­eral reg­u­la­tion and su­per­vi­sion by the U.S. Bureau of Land Man­age­ment.

Josh Ewing, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Friends of Cedar Mesa, a lib­eral con­ser­va­tive group, crit­i­cized the Hatch-Lee leg­is­la­tion as mak­ing pro­tec­tion of such land im­pos­si­ble. “A change like that would mean it doesn’t mat­ter how im­por­tant the land­scape is, pol­i­tics will rules the day.”

Well, ex­actly. Pol­i­tics should rule the day, be­cause “pol­i­tics” is the way con­tentious is­sues are worked out by the peo­ple in a democ­racy. Barack Obama’s ex­pen­sive tip of his hat, and then some, to rad­i­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal groups was “pol­i­tics.” So is Pres­i­dent Trump’s or­der re­turn­ing the “pol­i­tics” of land man­age­ment to the peo­ple, in this case to the peo­ple of Utah. It was the right thing to do.

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