Creation of national monuments has been an important aspect of President Obama's legacy. That makes the monuments a target for those vindictive Republican members of Congress who seek to negate as many of Obama's accomplishments as possible.
If these lawmakers are ever successful in reversing Obama's monument designations, it will become their legacy, and a dubious one at that. I say dubious because national monuments enjoy overwhelming support in poll after poll. Such results are not surprising since preservation of unique public places of natural beauty and other national values is held in high regard in our culture.
Although some monuments allow limited commercial operations, others are so spectacular that they have morphed into national parks where tourism-related endeavors are the only permitted activities.
The monuments' popularity has not deterred their congressional opponents from pushing to remove the designation and cede control to the states, many of which are more receptive to industrial activity on site. These legislators don't seem to grasp they are casting themselves as villains in the eyes of all but some of their local business constituencies who want free rein to drill, cut, and otherwise extract the monuments' natural resources.
Foremost among the monument foes is House Natural Resources Committee chairman Rob Bishop of Utah. He has been overseeing--to no avail--numerous bills to limit or eliminate altogether Obama's unilateral authority to create monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Thwarted in Congress, Bishop has appealed to President-elect Donald Trump to revoke some of Obama's 23 established monuments that conservative GOP lawmakers find most objectionable.
It is unlikely that Trump will take the political risk of canceling official protection of popular conservation areas. Besides, he has publicly stated his preference for keeping federal undeveloped conservation lands out of state and private hands.
Nevertheless, he has also pledged to counter Obama policy and open up federal lands to increased fossil fuel extraction. That policy could conceivably move Trump to seek to roll back environmental restrictions or even annul some of the 23 new monuments established by Obama.
It is comforting to know there is no precedent for a president to revoke the monument designations of his predecessors. Moreover, the language in the Antiquities Act implies that a president lacks the authority to nullify designations by past White House occupants.
Congress can also create national monuments and does have the authority to revoke a designation but has rarely exercised that prerogative. In any event, Bishop knows there are not enough votes in the current Congress to abolish Obama's national monuments, which is why he turned to Trump.
Even though dismantling a protected conservation area is rarely a winning strategy, some Republicans' animosity towards Obama is so consuming that they are willing to assume the risk.
As for Trump, he has publicly vowed to honor the national monument legacy of President Teddy Roosevelt. How about Obama's?