Ahead of Republican Briefing on Weakening Our Public Lands Protections, Grijalva Challenges Bishop to Propose and Debate a Bill

Washington, D.C. – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said ahead of tomorrow’s American Enterprise Institute briefing on the Antiquities Act that Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who will offer opening remarks at the event alongside Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), needs to bring a bill on the Antiquities Act up for debate in the House Natural Resources Committee and make his case to fellow lawmakers that protections for federal lands should be weakened or eliminated.

Bishop for years has led an effort in Congress to weaken the law – which since 1906 has granted presidents the authority to establish national monuments on federal land and in federal waters – and to cancel monument status at several popular sites, including Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and more recently Bears Ears National Monument, both in Utah. But since taking the chairmanship of the Committee in 2015, Bishop has not brought a bill to withdraw monument status at Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bears Ears or any other national monument up for a vote.

Instead he has championed a previously unheard-of legal theory, rebutted in a recent legal memo from the firm of Arnold & Porter, that the Antiquities Act also grants presidents the authority to rescind monument status once conferred despite that language appearing nowhere in the text.

Tomorrow’s event will feature John Yoo, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley law school who authored infamous Bush-era legal memos justifying torture, and Todd Gaziano of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a right-wing think tank partially funded by the Koch Brothers financial network. They will argue, inaccurately, that presidents have the power to rescind national monument status unilaterally.

According to Arnold & Porter’s analysis, “The revocation of the designation of a National Monument, and particularly one added to the National Park System, is . . . beyond the power of a President acting alone. Such a revocation may only be effectuated by an Act of Congress. The interpretation proffered by Yoo and Gaziano would therefore, if acted upon, result in a usurpation of congressional powers by the Executive Branch.”

As Grijalva wrote in a Feb. 25 op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune, “Instead of exercising his own legislative authority and having to defend his actions to his constituents, Bishop would prefer that administration officials like [Interior Secretary Ryan] Zinke try to rescind the Bears Ears designation, end up in court defending a legally dubious claim and take the heat themselves.”

“We can disagree about whether our federal lands should be protected or turned over to extraction industries, but let’s do our jobs and have that debate with our colleagues about real legislation,” Grijalva said today. “Chairman Bishop has the power to introduce a bill that puts his ideas into practice, discuss its merits and hold a vote whenever he chooses. Rather than trying to convince a small handful of people to support a behind-the-scenes legal strategy, let’s see what happens when he asks our colleagues to vote against our country’s public lands when the cameras are rolling.”

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