To Protect the Antiquities Act, Don’t Abuse It
The Antiquities Act was passed by Congress in 1906 and signed into law by President Teddy Roosevelt in an effort to preserve American land after the pillage and destruction of a number of Native American and archaeological sites in the Southwest United States. The Antiquities Act is one of the most important pieces of conservation legislation in our nation’s history, providing the President with the sole power to declare National Monuments on federal land for the purposes of historical and natural preservation and waters. These sites often become part of the National Parks Systems under the care of the National Parks Service which is tasked with the protection of all of our valuable monuments.
Throughout its history, the Antiquities Act has had bipartisan support and has been used by 13 Presidents. The preservation of the Statue of Liberty, Death Valley and Grand Canyon are just a few of the monumental and historic American sites that were saved through the Antiquities Act. However, for fishermen on Long Island and nationwide, the current administration’s overzealous and overly broad interpretation of this law is causing great concern.
Recent Marine Monument designations proclaimed by the Obama Administration have been the largest in U.S. history, locking out fishing in perpetuity—a severe departure from the original intent of the Antiquities Act to preserve historical sites and archeological treasures. In 2014, President Obama declared a 490,000 square mile area of water in the Pacific Ocean as a National Marine Monument after receiving little public input and through a process where transparency was severely lacking. As a result of this new monument, recreational fishing was severely limited and commercial fishing was completely banned, hurting fishermen in the Pacific Ocean. Now, important fishing areas in the Northwest Atlantic, where fishermen from Greenport, Montauk, and throughout the entire New York and New England region have worked for centuries, are under consideration for a National Marine Monument designation by the current administration. As the President is pushing to apply this power to large areas of ocean in the Northwest Atlantic, he is threatening to shutdown thousands of square miles of ocean from Long Island fishermen through abuse of the Antiquities Act.
Twice in this seminal law’s history, in 1943 and 1980, Congress had to step in to reign in abuse of the President’s monument making power. In 2016, as we recognize 110 years of the Antiquities Act, the Legislative Branch needs to step in once again. Last month, in an effort to ensure that the President does not lock out thousands of fishermen in our area from portions of federal waters that contain essential fisheries, I offered an amendment to the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2017 (H.R. 5538), which passed the House, and would bar funding for the designation of any National Marine Monuments by the President in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The waters of the EEZ are the areas commercial fishermen on Long Island and nationwide work to feed their families and to keep the seafood economy moving.
I believe in the proud conservation legacy of Teddy Roosevelt. In Congress, one of my top priorities is safeguarding our environment. Protecting our land and water is one of my highest priorities; however, we must ensure that any efforts to create a marine protected area are done through a transparent process laid out by the Magnusson-Stevens fishery conservation law, not through executive fiat that threatens to put thousands of hardworking men and women out of business. An effective way to conserve our ocean resources that allows for a thriving fishing economy has already been laid out through this landmark bipartisan law.
Safeguarding the environment, while protecting the seafood economy, coastal communities, and the hardworking men and women of the seafood industry who provide for their families through fishing must be a priority for us all.
Congressman Lee Zeldin represents the First Congressional District of New York.