Republicans in Congress want to rescind presidential power to designate monuments in state

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With some rural Nevadans still seething over President Barack Obama’s designation of two national monuments two Republican lawmakers want to restrict the ability of future presidents to create more in the Silver State.

On Wednesday Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., announced legislation that would make Nevada off-limits to new monuments that don’t have approval from Congress.

The announcement comes in the wake of decisions by Obama to follow the advice of former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to designate the Basin and Range and Gold Butte monuments in southern Nevada.

“Unlike all of our Nevada lands bills that allow stakeholders an opportunity to voice their concerns and ultimately reach a consensus agreement that achieves bipartisan support, the Obama Administration has repeatedly bypassed Congress and local input,” Amodei said in a statement announcing the bill.

“Late last month, without even having a say in the matter, Nevadans witnessed the executive branch quickly lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of local, public land with an effortless stroke of the pen. No matter which political party is occupying the White House, these types of unilateral federal land grabs by the executive branch should not be allowed,” Heller said.

Under the Antiquities Act of 1906 the President has the right to protect public land and resources by designating national monuments. Congress can also designate monuments. Monuments are managed by agencies such as the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service, depending on the rules set forth in the designation.

Under the Nevada Land Sovereignty Act by Amodei and Heller, Nevada would join Wyoming as states where such a designation would require support from Congress.

In general, it’s more difficult to get a monument designation through Congress than it is through executive action. In the past designations that were controversial at the outset have won widespread public support eventually, such as the designation of the Grand Canyon, now part of a national park, in 1908.

Heller and Amodei are the only two of the state’s six federal representatives who opposed Obama’s Gold Butte designation.

Reid and Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., were in office at the time of the designation and supported it. Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., and Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., both elected Nov. 8 and set to start their first terms this month, supported the designation. Kihuen and Rosen replaced Republican representatives who opposed Gold Butte and Basin and Range.

Division over the designation reflects Nevada’s voter distribution, with Democratic voters who mostly supported the efforts concentrated in Las Vegas and, to a lesser extent, Reno, and Republicans who opposed the monuments dominating the remaining, less populous areas of the state.

Nationally Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, which gives Republican bills a decided advantage in becoming law.

However, there’s evidence to show that contrary to assertions by Amodei, Heller and other opponents, monuments and other forms of protected public land provide local economies a boost as opposed to acting as a drag.

A 2011 study by Headwaters Economics in Bozeman, Mont., looked at communities near 17 monuments around the western United States.

In all 17 areas it showed economic growth continued uninterrupted after monument designations.

In the case of the El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico economic trends turned upward in the wake of the monument designation, Headwaters associate director Ben Alexander said at the time.

David von Seggern, Reno-based chairman of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the group would oppose eliminating the opportunity for presidents to designate monuments in Nevada.

“This has brought many, many, many millions of acres under special protection,” von Seggern said of presidential designations. “We think this is wonderful part of preserving the natural heritage of America and it ought to continue … I don’t know why Heller and Amodei think otherwise.”

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