To hear some 21st century conservative Republicans talk, anyone would think the Antiquities Act, giving the U.S. president authority to protect unique lands for Americans, is a liberal weapon wielded by tree-hugging Democrats to disrupt the capitalist system.
That is spectacularly wrong.
Bill Clinton did not invent the Antiquities Act or dredge it up from the musty cellar of outdated laws to ruin the economy of southern Utah by establishing the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, as some Republican legislators, both state and federal, would have us believe.
To the contrary, the act has been used by both Republican and Democratic presidents to protect 130 national monuments, most of which remain as much-visited monuments today and some of which have become iconic and beloved national parks. Nonetheless, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop, among others, are pushing to repeal the presidential powers outlined in the act and give Congress sole authority to designate monuments in the future. Given the nature of the modern Congress to bicker and stall, rather than compromise and legislate, that move would mean the end of the act.
It's ironic that such a proposal would come from members of this particular Congress, one that Americans hold in such disdain for its refusal to solve problems and its tendency toward partisan stonewalling.
The Antiquities Act was passed by a lopsidedly Republican Congress in 1906 and signed into law by a Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, who became the first president to use it, when he set aside the Devils Tower National Monument.
The most recent president to invoke the act was another Republican, former President George W. Bush, who established three submerged national monuments in the Pacific Ocean, collectively the largest protected area in the country, on Jan. 6, 2009.
Republican presidents have been especially busy in Utah, using the Antiquities Act to protect Natural Bridges, Rainbow Bridge, Hovenweep, Cedar Breaks and Timpanogos Cave national monuments and monuments that became Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches national parks.
Without the presidential authority delegated by the Antiquities Act, would Utahns and millions of visitors to the Beehive State have the pleasure of these spectacular natural wonders?
We dare say not, if the authority to designate them had belonged to Congress, as Hatch and Bishop are proposing.