President Obama and his administration have increased efforts to use executive power to do everything possible to undermine the agenda of President-Elect Donald Trump. On the foreign policy front, the administration allowed a U.N. resolution condemning Israel to pass and implemented sanctions against Russian officials.
At the same time, the administration has made a large land-grab and churned out a succession of new regulations — all within the last week.
“National monument recognition locks up abundant natural resources from developers in the West.”
On Wednesday, Obama designated two massive swaths of territory in the American West as monuments.
But these are not marble statues Obama is protecting. Instead, they are two large areas, already run by the federal government, with one in southern Utah having been the focus of a bitter land fight for years.
The order is sure to be on a list of frenzied lame-duck activity Trump will reconsider when he takes office on Jan. 20.
It is also likely to cause Congress to re-examine, repeal, or rewrite the 1906 American Antiquities Act, under which Obama acted.
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The action brought immediate condemnation from Western leaders, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, who noted the White House didn’t even use the right picture in its press release.
Obama used executive action to ensure Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada could never be used for commercial development, resource exploration, or other activities with economic objectives.
The land is already owned by the federal government, and managed through the Bureau of Land Management.
No other president has thrown federal protections over as much land and water, under the Antiquities Act, than Obama.
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The land snatched by Obama comes to about 1.3 million acres in Utah and another 300,000 acres outside of Las Vegas.
U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said a bipartisan negotiation was in the works on Bears Ears, but then Obama acted to pass a “midnight monument” rule.
Chaffetz notes it’s one heck of a “monument”: The acreage in Utah designated is roughly the size of the state of Delaware.
The designation was called for by Native Americans and environmentalists, but Hatch said the move could seriously affect the way of life in San Juan County, Utah.
U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said the presidential decree would not stand.
The Heritage Foundation has long denounced the continued standing and abuse of the Antiquities Act.
In March 2015, Nicolas Loris, a Heritage Foundation fellow, said the law needed to be tweaked or repealed.
“For more than a century, the president of the United States has had the power to unilaterally designate land as a national monument without input from Congress or the states,” Loris wrote. “The Antiquities Act of 1906 originally served as a means for the President to quickly designate land to prevent looting of archeological [sic] sites. However, presidents from both parties have abused the power to place restrictions on land use.”
Loris listed several problems with the law, such as its undemocratic traits.
And he said one of the main aims of the law, as viewed by officials today, is to prevent energy exploration.
The monument designation could even prevent carbon-free attempts to capture energy. Loris said the designation will prevent solar panels from the land.
The Southwest is the best spot in the nation for solar energy production.
“While many monument declarations protect existing activities on the land (although sometimes with more stringent environmental standards), most recent proclamations ban new activities,” Loris wrote. “Thus, national monument recognition locks up abundant natural resources from developers in the West. These include conventional sources of energy such as coal, oil, natural gas, and uranium; unconventional sources of energy such as shale deposits; and renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal.”
On the regulation front, Obama’s federal agencies will issue new rules for tax reporting on gambling winnings, new investment rules, and new rules for pharmaceutical companies.
It’s the finance and investment regulations that may be the most suspect.
The Hill reports that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will re-propose speculative position limits under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, for previously exempt commodity futures as well as physical commodity swaps.
The federal government already enforces regulations on speculative position limits in the commodity futures market.
Dodd-Frank is a controversial finance and investment reform bill passed after the Great Recession, in 2010. Trump has suggested he would like to see repeal of the bill.