May 11, 2010 — Congressman Tom McClintock challenged President Barack Obama and his administration on Wednesday, May 5 to honor its recent open government pledge and reveal the details of a plan to designate as much as 3 million acres in Lassen and Modoc counties as a National Monument.
“First and foremost, we’re trying to force all of this out in the open so the people of Lassen and Modoc counties know what the administration is planning to do and have the opportunity to express their opinions,” McClintock said. “This comes from an administration that promised absolute transparency, and now they’re stonewalling more than 2,000 pages of material that would give the people of our region a clear picture of what the administration intends and how they’ve come about producing this policy. They won’t say, and the fact they won’t say makes me very nervous.”
Hugh Vickery, a spokesperson for the Department of the Interior, said, “The department did a thorough review of all documents pertaining to this request. Following the review we provided members of congress the documents that were responsive to their request and in accordance with federal law. This is an on-going process, and we may supplement this response as the process is concluded. As we have said before, secretary Salazar believes new designations and conservation initiatives work best when they build on local efforts to better manage places that are important to nearby communities.”
McClintock said he feared the designation could close the area “to virtually any human activity.”
The Department of the Interior’s plan to grant National Monument status to as many as 17 areas covering as much as 13 million acres in 11 western states went public after an allegedly secret document was released by the Western Counties Alliance on Feb. 23.
The alliance attributes the leaked document to Congressman Rob Bishop, the ranking Republican member of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee and Chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus.
Obama could authorize the National Monument designations by invoking the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Lassen County Board of Supervisors opposes the designation and has written letters to the White House and the Department of the Interior requesting public involvement in the decision-making process.
According to a press release from McClintock’s office, despite two months of requests, Republicans in congress have been unable to obtain thousands of pages of documents regarding the proposed designations. The requested documents include e-mails to and from the Department of the Interior, the White House, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Reclamation and thousands of pages from the so-called “Treasured Landscape” document.
“The e-mails (that have been released) simply raise more questions about these potential designations, while failing to provide any substantial information regarding the administration’s plans,” McClintock said. “They’ve not released the core documents we’re seeking to determine what their plans are and how are they arriving at those plans. We’re still operating with about 14 pages of a draft memorandum that clearly targets the Modoc Plateau for take over under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The appalling thing about it is the Antiquities Act of 1906 was specifically written to give the president emergency power to protect archeological sites from looting, and they’re now attempting to use that to put off limits 3 million acres of the Modoc Plateau by declaring it a National Monument.”
McClintock acknowledged other presidents have used the Antiquities Act in the last century to create National Monuments.
“Bill Clinton drove a truck through that loophole (in 1996 when he designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah) as did George W. Bush,” McClintock said. “Like so many of the mistakes of Bush and Clinton, the Obama administration is taking it to a whole new level.”
On Wednesday, May 5 the House Natural Resources Committee considered House Resolution 1254 — a bill that would direct the Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior, to transmit to the House of Representatives specific information relating to potential National Monument designations. McClintock said he was disappointed the bill did not receive the committee’s recommendation.
“Ultimately, I think enough pressure is going to make it more and more difficult for the administration to continue to stonewall,” McClintock said.
The congressman encouraged his constituents to write the administration, protest the proposal and ask it to come clean and produce the documents so the American people get the transparency they were promised.
“The use of this authority to place off-limits some 3 million acres of land just for the hell of it is a gross abuse of power by this administration and has devastating consequences to the people and the economy of my district,” McClintock said in remarks he made before natural resources committee. “I speak in support of this resolution with an urgency bordering on desperation for the people of Modoc and Lassen counties in my Congressional district. These folks have already been devastated by federal land use restrictions. This region is one of the most timber-rich and mineral-rich areas of the United States, and yet federal restrictions have left it economically prostrate: Modoc County currently suffers an 18.2 percent unemployment rate and Lassen County 16.7 percent.”
McClintock said the designation could “close the Modoc Plateau to future mineral exploration, timber development, or even grazing and local communities could face still more job losses and reduced tax revenues. This is one of the most rural areas of my district; they are suffering from a shrinking tax base because the state and federal governments already control more than 60 percent of the land. An expansion of land use restrictions will only further stifle an already struggling economy.”
McClintock said such the use of public land should benefit the people.
“The preservation of public land is not an end in itself — it is a means to an end: the public good. And the public good is not served by the mindless closure of vast tracts of land at the expense of the sustainable use of our natural resources, responsible stewardship of our public lands, and the freedom and property rights of our citizens.”
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