On its face, the public land debate pits two sides against one another: simple nature-loving folks and the nefarious interests of big business.
Where one sees beauty, the other sees profits.
The recently proposed House bill HR 3990 — which aims to redefine what constitutes a "national monunment" — sheds light on another aspect of this debate: it’s not just between business interests and environmentalists, or states and the federal government. It’s between a group who want to live in harmony with the world, and another who need to control it.
The bill is being proposed by Congressman Rob Bishop as an amendment to the Antiquities Act. Bishop has long been a shill for the oil and coal industries, and his new bill is seen by some as their reward for donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to his warchest.
The Sierra Club did some heavy lifting to identify four main takeaways:
- Protections will be limited to manmade structures. Anything scientific or natural is ineligible.
- Monuments can’t measure more than 85,000 acres. And anything between 10,000 and 85,000 acres will require approval from state legislatures and governors, a decades-long process.
- The president will have the power to rescind a National Monument, “totally undercutting the Administration and Bishop’s arguments that the Antiquities Act as currently written already allows the president to get rid of a monument.”
- Marine monuments can no longer be created. Sorry, ocean.
So yes, the new bill aims to gut the Antiquities Act, making it easier for businesses that plunder natural resources to do so, and harder for any president to create National Monuments that are of either scientific or naturalistic interest. But it’s that first part — about limiting protections to buildings — that should be of note: the bill wants human structures to be celebrated. Not natural ones.
The situation reminds me of a conversation I once had with the publisher of a magazine I worked for in North Carolina. He saw environmentalists as infringing on humanity’s footprint. To him, it was man's natural right and responsibility to grow and build, even if that came at the expense of the ecosystem. Bishop and his ilk seem to agree with that stance, despite a lack of public support on the issue.
This indicates a person who wants to control things. The natural world is chaotic, whereas man’s is orderly. So while the story of HR-3390 is that of a leglislator kowtowing to the business interests that consolidate his power, it's also the story of an aging male ego confronting its own impermanence. And that ego desires to endure, be it via a legislative legacy or the physical structures that said legislation protects.
Ironically, the only thing that eventually endures is our society. And our endurance depends on the health of the world that surrounds us, where the prevailing rule is that diversity (ethnic, biological, etc.) breeds resilience.
In these extremely partisan times, it’s easy to just stand by and side with your political party. But if hunters and tree huggers can join forces on this one, perhaps you should give it a second thought, too. The cost of complacency is that your kids will live in a world with fewer spaces to play outside. To explore. To learn to appreciate the natural world.
So contact your representatives and let them know that you oppose HR 3990.