No More Marine Monuments?

2017-11-30T15:50:12+00:00 October 16, 2017|
Sea life abounds on the pristine reefs in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. (Credit: Kaleomanuiwa Wong

(Click to enlarge) Sea life abounds on the pristine reefs in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. (Credit: Kaleomanuiwa Wong)

What It Was

The House Natural Resources Committee held a markup on Wednesday to consider the National Monument Creation and Protection Act (H.R. 3990) and a resolution concerning the Interior Department’s review of the Antiquities Act (H.Res. 555). The National Monument Creation and Protection Act, which passed out of committee along a party line vote (23-17)  would eliminate the president’s ability to designate marine monuments and would require consent from Congress to protect large terrestrial areas. H.Res. 555, which failed along the same vote margin, would have asked Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to provide Congress with more information about his recent report that would significantly reduce the size of at least four national monuments.

Why It Matters

National monuments (including marine ones) are designated by the president, through the power of the American Antiquities Act of 1906 (16 USC 431-433) to protect “natural and cultural” resources, to promote exploration and research, and to educate the public. Our four marine monuments, encompassing over 330,000 square miles of water, include unique coral reefs, deep sea trenches, endangered species, and coastlines.

Key Points

The National Monument Creation and Protection Act would entirely eliminate the president’s power to create national marine monuments and would introduce size and location restrictions for terrestrial ones, although an emergency monument could be designated for up to one year.

Under H.R. 3990, the president could establish monuments of up to 640 acres (as long as they are more than 50 miles away from another one), but those between 640-10,000 acres would require environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, and any from 10,000-85,000 acres would need approval from governing bodies within the proposed area – the county government, the state legislator, and the governor. Additionally, the president would have the power to shrink monuments already in existence.

There was partisan disagreement over this bill. Republicans on the committee said it would provide transparency and an opportunity for local input while restoring the century-old law to its original intent. Democrats disagreed on the intent of the law, averring that less than two years after the signing of the Antiquities Act, President Teddy Roosevelt used it to protect the 800,000-acre Grand Canyon.

Democrats viewed the bill as destroying the Antiquities Act, a bedrock conservation law, and as a threat to local economies, which are supported through tourism and outdoor recreation driven by the monuments.  They also considered the bill a nod to the mining and energy industries as a way for them to increase profits.

Representative Donald McEachin (VA-4) highlighted the broad popularity and support of these protected areas, citing a January poll of seven western states showing 80 percent of respondents supported maintaining monument designations from the last decade, as opposed to only 13 percent opposed.

The committee voted down, along party lines, a resolution from Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (AZ-3) demanding information related to the Interior Department’s review of national monuments, including documents related to the executive order and the report’s recommendations. While supporters said this is an important step in determining how the department made its designations, Republicans argued that true transparency would come through H.R. 3990.


“If we enact this measure, we will endanger our existing monuments, we will cripple future presidents’ ability to protect new sites. In isolation, either change would be a grave mistake, together, I would suggest they are a calamity.” Representative Donald McEachin (VA-4)

 “Congress never intended to give one individual the power to unilaterally seize enormous swathes of our nation’s public lands… Our problem isn’t President Obama or President Trump. It’s the underlying law – a statute that provides authority to dictate national monument decisions in secrecy and without public input. The only path to the accountability we all seek – no matter which party controls the White House – is to amend the act itself.” – Chairman Rob Bishop (UT-1)

Next Steps

National Monument Creation and Protection Act was sent to the House floor, where it awaits a vote.

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

Marine National Monuments

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership