Oh, joy. The Republicans of the 112th Congress are going after the Antiquities Act. This is the latest of several attempts to remove the President's ability to apply the Antiquities Act. Passed under Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 as An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities, The Antiquities Act is one of the Republican Party's success stories, allowing the President to create National Monuments. More than three-fourths of our presidents have used it to preserve public lands. Even George W Bush--a President not known for his high view of conservation--created Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to protect a significant ocean area in the Hawaiian Islands.

The purpose of the Antiquities Act is to allow the President to create National Monuments to protect areas of archaeological or scientific interest without requiring Congressional action. This is particularly important when an influential corporation, typically with the support of the Governor and Senators, wants to exploit a natural resource of federal lands. This 'reclamation' is usually allowed with the proper permits, but there are many areas that should be left mostly undisturbed. The Antiquities Act provides a way for the President to directly create the needed protection of federal land. While largely passed to protect western areas from artifact hunters, the Antiquities Act is also useful for protecting natural areas. For example, Bill Clinton used the Act to protect an area of Utah from coal mining interests by creating the popular Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

A new round of challenges to the Antiquities Act has begun during the 112th Congress. Using accountability or the state sovereignty trope as cause, several bills have been introduced, with the latest hearings taking place this week. These bills remove the effectiveness of the Antiquities Act by requiring Congressional Action for each National Monument. Congress already has the power to override presidentially proclaimed National Monuments and to create or alter National Monuments. After the donation of the land for Jackson Hole National Monument by John D Rockefeller, Jr, Congress created an exemption from the Antiquities Act for Wyoming. Congress opposed the creation of Jackson Hole National Monument, but eventually added most of it to Grand Teton National Park. After Jimmy Carter created a number of large National Monuments in Alaska, Congress added restrictions to the application of the Antiquities Act in Alaska. In the past Congress has exercised its power over National Monuments by creating them, changing their boundaries, eliminating them, and even converting them to National Parks. This means that the 'accountability' argument isn't actually over accountability, but is an excuse to eliminate the Antiquities Act without actually removing it from the Federal Code. The state sovereignty argument is also irrelevant: the lands under consideration are already federal land. The state sovereignty argument is simply an attempt to move the lands to state control, where corporations seeking to exploit public resources can more easily obtain permission to do so. I support the general concept of moving government activities to the lowest level of government reasonable, but history shows that in the case of conservation this often means a choice between federal regulation and no regulation. Because of this practical observation, it is important that the Antiquities Act remains undiluted.

The Bills

Here is a summary of bills related to the Antiquities Act that have been introduced in the current Congress. A rejected amendment to another bill is excluded from this list. All of the sponsors are Republicans.


National Monument Designation Transparency and Accountability Act
Devin Nunes (CA) & 24 other Republicans (large overlap with H.R.817)

  • The President must notify Congress & Governor and hold hearings
  • There must be a study of impacts, including impact on oil and coal extraction
  • Without congressional approval the National Monument expires in 2 years


To amend the Antiquities Act of 1906 to place additional requirements on the establishment of national monuments under that Act, and for other purposes.
Wally Herger (CA) & 9 others (large overlap with H.R.758)

  • National Monuments are subject to approval by an Act of Congress


Denny Rehberg (MT)

  • Add Montana to Wyoming's exemption
  • Require Congressional approval to act on Secretary of the Interior's Order No. 3310

    • Order No. 3310 states that "...the protection of the wilderness characteristics of public lands is a high priority for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and is an integral component of its multiple use mission." This order requires the value as wilderness to be considered in land use plans.


Utah Land Sovereignty Act
Rob Bishop (UT) & 1 other

  • add Utah to Wyoming's Antiquities Act exemption


A bill to prohibit the further extension or establishment of national monuments in Nevada except by express authorization of Congress.
John Ensign (NV, resigned)

  • Adds Nevada to Wyoming's exemption


National Monument Designation Transparency and Accountability Act of 2011
Mike Crapo (ID, R) & 8 others

  • More verbose version of H.R.758


Agency Overreach Moratorium Act
David Vitter (LA)

  • Prohibit resource extraction permits to be withdrawn without an Act of Congress
  • Require an Act of Congress to implement a National Monument
  • Before any Federal agency makes any changes related to permits for natural resource extraction, the Secretary of Commerce must submit to Congress an analysis of revenue and property rights impacts


A bill to prohibit the further extension or establishment of national monuments in Utah except by express authorization of Congress.
Orrin G Hatch (UT) & 1 other

  • Same as H.R.2147