Enacted in 1906 during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, the Antiquities Act gives U.S. Presidents the power to designate certain public lands around the country as "National Monuments." Every President since T.R. has used the power to do so, creating in the process some of our country's most iconic, most cherished, and most economically valued sites, totaling around 70 million acres. Some National Monuments retain the designation (e.g., Devil's Tower in nearby Wyoming), others become National Parks (South Dakota's Badlands N.P., for example). If there's any doubt about the economic value of these national treasures to South Dakota, consider that tourism is the states's second largest industry. Their value on any esthetic scale I can think of is immeasurable. T.R.'s understanding of that is why he's enshrined on Mt. Rushmore.
That Noem is either unaware or unconcerned about the economic force that South Dakota's national parks have been is obvious. She made that plain by voting to shut them down last October during the peak Autumn tourist season. That she still hasn't grasped the connection between parks and their economic value was made quite evident in her vote a few days ago for a bill titled "Ensuring Public Involvement In The Creation Of National Monuments Act," which passed the House on pretty much party line voting. Basically the act limits the president to creating one national monument per state during each four year term and requires environmental reviews for each proposed monument over 5,000 acres in size. Why Republicans are in such a rush to deny the president what has always been a swift means of protecting public lands isn't clear to me. It might be part of a general effort at restricting presidential powers by reducing the number of new National Monuments. Fewer National Monuments means fewer National Parks, because only Congress can turn a Monument into a National Park. I believe the effect of this law, if it makes the unlikely passage through the Senate and the White House, would be to vastly reduce the amount of land that is set aside for conservation and public enjoyment.
Thankfully for those of us who make a living from and enjoy the wonders of South Dakota's national parks, nothing like this law was in place when Mt. Rushmore was created or the Badlands were turned into one of the great, protected geological wonders on the planet. Could you imagine an environmental review process being imposed on Mt. Rushmore? Might just as well assume it would never have come into being. Given that the state she represents is virtually identified by Mt. Rushmore, why Congresswoman Noem would put barriers against future generations enjoying yet-to-be-designated monuments and parks is mystifying. Certainly, given the inherent political headwinds, exclusively Congressional action in this area would bring the process to a crawl. This is one area where politically unfettered decisions by the president, regardless of party, should be left alone.
In any event, Congress has the authority to abolish any National Monuments or convert them into other designations. The Congressional Research Service makes mention of this in a 2005 report titled National Monument Issues. Given that congressional authority to rescind or amend National Monument designations is already in the books, why would Noem and her fellow Republicans make the process more difficult in the first place? If they have the votes to pass this bill, they probably have the votes to reverse any National Monument designation they don't like. The answer can only be that they're playing politics with public land.
As an addendum: what's with Congresswoman Noem suddenly warming to the idea of environmental reviews, anyway? I note that Noem a few weeks ago voted for a bill that would restrict those reviews when it comes to private development. Apparently what's good for the public sector goose isn't so good for the private sector gander. Explain yourself, Congresswoman.