The governor says he’d like to see the Obama designation reversed, and if it’s not, he’ll urge Congress to change the law so state and local approvals are needed.
by Scott Thistle, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
AUGUSTA — With President Trump poised to order a review of the past 20 years of national monument designations, Maine Gov. Paul LePage said Monday that he plans to travel to Washington next week to testify against President Obama’s August 2016 designation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine.
LePage said he believes Obama violated the federal Antiquities Act with his order designating the monument on 87,000 acres of forestland near Millinocket and Baxter State Park that was donated to the federal government by Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby. The designation went against the state’s wishes and undermines the forest products industry by limiting timber harvesting, LePage said. He also said the land is “cut over” and won’t have value for 60 years.
“I think it was a horrible, horrible decision and it should be reversed if it can,” LePage said.
LePage had asked Trump to reverse the designation in February. Supporters of national monuments argue that federal law prohibits presidents from scrapping earlier designations, although Congress has that power.
LePage said he would testify to Congress that the Antiquities Act should be changed so that state and local approval is required for a monument designation by a president. He is expected to appear next week before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, which is considering possible changes to the 111-year-old law.
Also Monday, the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah reported that Trump is going to issue an executive order this week calling for a review of all the national monument designations made by the past three presidents, although it was unclear what effect such a review would have. Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah in December also has fueled the pressure on Trump to try to revoke national monument designations, something no president has done before.
A recent legal analysis conducted for the National Parks Conservation Association determined that the president “has no power unilaterally to abolish a national monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906.”
“For over 100 years, the Antiquities Act has allowed presidents to declare national monuments and preserve worthy lands for the enjoyment of all Americans and future generations,” the February 2017 analysis states. “There are today national monuments in 31 states. For all Americans, they offer recreational opportunities and preserve a heritage of beauty, scientific marvels and human achievement. But the Antiquities Act and subsequent legislation reserved for Congress, which has constitutional authority over public lands, the sole power to revoke such a designation.”
LePage argued that the Maine monument was improper because it was not supported by the state. In addition to concerns about timber harvesting, LePage said the new designation may limit motorized recreational activities and access for hunting and fishing.
“The Legislature in Maine had a resolution and said they did not want a national park or monument, the governor weighed in and did not want it, we had local referendums that said they did not want it, and he did it anyway,” LePage said of Obama. “That’s a violation of the Antiquities Act.”
Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son and the public face of the effort that resulted in the designation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, said LePage was simply trying to “litigate again” a resolved issue.
St. Clair was critical of LePage spending time traveling to Washington instead of focusing on Maine. The national monument designation allows for hunting and snowmobiling, the first time the allowances have been made for national monuments, and was largely a result of months of public meetings that LePage did not participate in, St. Clair said.
CONTROVERSY AMID PROGRESS
He said the designation was already yielding economic results for the region, and with the summer tourism season around the corner, he is hopeful it will draw more visitors to the state’s northern forests.
“Opening back up this controversy doesn’t keep people from doing the work in the Katahdin region to grow their businesses, start their business, and it doesn’t keep people from coming up and visiting,” St. Clair said.
He said LePage’s proposal that the Baxter State Park Authority manage the land is at odds with the governor’s budget proposal, which cuts funding for state land management. Mostly, St. Clair said he hopes LePage will not distract people from progress that’s being made.
“I hope that it doesn’t detract from some of the good things that are going on up there,” St. Clair said.
Judy Berk, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which supported the designation, said Obama acted well within his authority.
“Obama did not violate anything,” Berk wrote in a message to the Press Herald. “He clearly had the authority.”
The federal government held a pair of public hearings on the monument designation in May 2016 and received mixed reactions. Those at a hearing in Orono voiced broad support for the designation, while a hearing in Millinocket saw widespread opposition.
Meanwhile, there is evidence the designation is having a positive, if modest, impact on the region’s economy, despite the objections of LePage and other opponents.
Any move in Congress to rescind a national monument designation likely would face stiff opposition from Democrats.
LePage acknowledged it will be difficult to overturn the designation and said, barring a reversal, he was asking Trump to “hire the Baxter State Park people to manage it. That’s the very best I would expect.”
Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, issued a statement Monday saying, “It would be terrible for President Trump to undermine the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument by attempting to overturn President Obama’s designation – an authority (Trump) very likely does not have in the first place.”
SENATORS WANT TO MOVE FORWARD
Pingree said many who had previously opposed the designation had begun to recognize the economic benefits from it.
“It would strike a blow to a region of our state that is already seeing an economic boost from the new monument,” Pingree said in the statement. “In the few months since its designation, the area has seen more visitors, more activity at retailers, and even increased property values. I will certainly use my role on the House Appropriations Committee to communicate those benefits to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in the coming weeks.”
Pingree is a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, which oversees funding for the National Park Service.
LePage also appears to be at odds with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. In a March letter to Berk, the resources council spokeswoman, Collins said she intended to work to make the monument designation a positive for Maine.
“While the process leading to the monument designation could have been greatly improved, it is time to put that dispute behind us,” Collins wrote. “I believe that any effort to rescind the designation at this point would be a mistake.”
Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent, also has written in support of the designation.
“The national monument is certainly not the sole answer, but it is an important part of a multifaceted economic revitalization strategy which is already underway and I hope it can be a part of a new and more diverse local economy,” King wrote, also in March. “If the recent experience of the region has taught us anything, it is the danger of over-dependence on one company or one industry and that lasting economic strength lies instead in a diverse economy with many employers and different kinds of jobs.”