The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee noted that President Obama’s unilateral declaration this week of a new national monument along the Mexican border was foreshadowed in a leaked memo from his first term.
The 2009 internal document at the Interior Department detailed the administration’s plant to use the 1906 Antiquities Act to restrict access on public lands for both recreation and energy production.
Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said the “scheme” was designed “to lock-up more than 13 million acres – including this land in New Mexico – with the simple stroke of the president’s pen.”
“The fears and concerns then have now been turned into reality,” Hastings said. “This is not the way major land-use decisions should be made. That’s why earlier this year, the House passed legislation to protect communities from federal land grabs and require public participation in the process.”
The committee has been battling the administration since that memo, trying to get the Interior Department to turn over documents related to land-use decisions.
Obama hosted an event at the Interior Department to sign a proclamation establishing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in south-central New Mexico.
“The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument is the second national monument I’ve designated this year, the 11th overall. I’ve preserved more than 3 million acres of public lands for future generations. And I am not finished,” he vowed Wednesday.
“As I said in my State of the Union address, I’m searching for more opportunities to preserve federal lands where communities are speaking up,” Obama added. “Because wherever I see an opening to get things done for the American people, I’m going to take it. I’ve said before: I want to work with anyone in Congress who is ready to get to work and shares those goals, but recently they haven’t gotten the job done.”
Hastings had a succinct reaction: “The Imperial President strikes again.”
“Instead of working in a transparent, open manner that guarantees public participation, President Obama is taking unilateral action behind closed-doors to designate hundreds of thousands of acres. Local communities and their local elected leaders oppose this designation because they know it will block job-creating economic activities and increase security risks along the U.S.-Mexico border,” the chairman said.
“Drug smuggling and criminal activity are known challenges in this area and the designation could put the Nation’s border security at risk. This is an issue that deserves careful examination. Time and again we have seen examples of where restrictive federal land management policies have created security risks including lawless corridors where criminals roam outside of law enforcement’s reach.”
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said the “most surprising aspect of this decision, though, is the president’s total disregard for the well-known drug trafficking and human smuggling issues plaguing public lands along the border.”
“Today’s decision will exacerbate rather than improve these very real issues, and for that, the president should be held personally accountable. Even the two Democrat senators recognized the need to release the Wilderness Study Areas in order to help U.S. Border Patrol have improved access to these areas,” he said in reference to New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich.
“With today’s decision, this land will remain off limits to the U.S. Border Patrol for routine security operations, making this area a prime drug trafficking corridor as we’ve seen in many other areas along the southern border. Drug cartels are highly organized operations that take full advantage of wilderness and other federal lands where the Border Patrol has limited access.”