WASHINGTON— Democrats are urging President Barack Obama to sidestep congressional Republicans who are blocking increased funding for the National Park Service and use his executive authority to expand the national park system.
Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Dina Titus of Nevada and Beto O’Rourke of Texas, all Democrats, urged the president Tuesday to use the Antiquities Act to confer monument status to public lands in their districts.
“Given the reluctance and opposition of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, it has been impossible to create new public parks,” Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said. “It is up to the president to designate these areas as part of his legacy and to leave an imprint for future designations.”
Obama Wednesday gave national monument status to Maine’s North Woods, “despite opposition by Maine’s local residents and elected officials,” according to a press release issued by the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, issued a separate statement saying used this year’s centennial of the National Park Service “as a cover to subvert the will of Maine’s citizens and leaders.”
“If the president cared about local voices and improving our National Park System, he would have done this through the public process and not behind closed doors,” Bishop said. “Instead, he’s hijacked a moment of celebration to advance powerful elite special interests over Maine’s economy and citizens.”
The Antiquities Act, established in 1906, provides legal protection of cultural and natural resources in America and allows the president to protect landmarks by designating them as national monuments.
Grijalva is pushing for national monument status for the Greater Grand Canyon in Arizona to protect it from uranium mining. The Grand Canyon Trust, which advocates protection of the Colorado Plateau, has gathered 3,099 signatures on a petition supporting the designation.
“Today, contaminated water from an abandoned uranium mine on its south rim is poisoning a spring-fed creek deep within the Grand Canyon,” the petition reads. “A national monument proclamation designation will prevent this kind of tragedy from ever happening again.”
Titus made a case for Gold Butte public lands in Arizona to be given national monument status in order to protect the area from vandalism, while O’Rourke has been continuing a 30-year push to make Castner Range in El Paso, Texas, a national monument.
O’Rourke said Castner Range is threatened by encroaching developments, and making it a national monument will “preserve the land’s natural beauty.”
According to the National Park Service website, 305 million people visited the 409 national parks in 2015 – a record high. But the the National Park Service has a backlog of maintenance issues that has reached almost $12 billion, and a new budget has not yet been passed for fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1.