White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that President Obama will create the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in south central New Mexico — an area encompassing nearly 500,000 acres.
Republicans are condemning this as the biggest “land grab” of his time in office.
“The President’s decision to section off one-fifth of Dona Ana County is misguided, and shows his contempt for the legislative branch,” New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce said in a statement. “With this land grab, the President is once again going out of his way to derail any attempt for form a consensus, and do what local people want.”
Pearce introduced a bill last year that would have only designated 54,800 acres of the Organ Mountains as a national monument — only about one-tenth of the acreage of Obama’s designation.
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“Residents of Dona Ana County deserve the assurance that first responders and Border Patrol can protect the public, flood control structures will be maintained, ranchers will have their grazing rights, and hunters can have the access they’ve always enjoyed,” Pearce added.
Tuesday’s designation will be the 11th time Obama has used his executive powers to designate federal lands as a national monument. Last year, Obama designated five new national monuments — the biggest one being a 240,000 acre chunk of New Mexico.
“By establishing the monument, the President will permanently protect more than 496,000 acres to preserve the prehistoric, historic and scientific values of the area for the benefit of all Americans,” Carney said.
The administration touted a recent study which said creating the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument could generate $7.4 million in economic activity every year from tourism and new businesses moving into the area.
Many westerners fear that Obama will continue to use his executive authority to make for federal lands off-limits to activities like cattle ranching, oil and natural gas drilling and coal mining. Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch even compared Obama’s national monuments legacy to former President Bill Clinton.
“It makes me worried that [the president will] just ignore the wishes of the people of Utah and just do what he wants to — like Clinton did,” Hatch told the Salt Lake Tribune. “Sometimes he does act unilaterally.”
Obama has used his power to designate national monuments more than twice as many times as his Republican predecessor George W. Bush — who used it five times. But President Clinton’s legacy of overusing his power to designate monuments still overshadows Obama’s. Clinton created 19 new monuments to Obama’s eleven.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 allows the president to establish national monuments to protect “objects of historic or scientific interest”. Since 1906, presidents have used the Antiquities Act to create more than 100 national monuments, which are managed by various agencies.
According to a liberal Center for American Progress report from last year, 2.9 million acres of federal land have been made permanently off-limits to development. Much of this land is in the western U.S., where the federal government has most of its land holdings.
Republicans have attempted to prevent the president from designating large tracts of land as national monuments. The House passed a bill last March to prevent the president from designating national monuments of 5,000 acres or larger without going through the same process as congressional designations of land.
“There’s been a lot of criticism of the president overstepping his bounds in a variety of ways,” said Washington Republican Rep. Doc Hastings. “I think the process over the past 100 years has gotten to the point where presidents in both parties have overstepped what I think the intent of that act was.”
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