By The BDN Editorial Board
Bangor Daily News editorial
A congressional field hearing that will be held in East Millinocket this week is billed as a more fair chance for local residents to be heard by national leaders about the prospects of a national monument in the Katahdin region. It won’t be.
Unlike a public hearing with the director of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, and Sen. Angus King, where anyone who showed up could speak and ask questions (which were answered), the field hearing is a staged event meant to showcase opposition to national parks and federal land ownership nationwide.
The hand-picked witnesses who will appear before the committee, including Gov. Paul LePage, are vociferous opponents of a national monument or park. The public will not be given an opportunity to speak but can fill out comment cards. Only two of the committee’s 44 members have said they will make the trip to Maine.
Another note: The field hearing at the East Millinocket town office is at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Monument opponents criticized Jarvis and King for scheduling a public meeting in East Millinocket during the day — noon on a Monday — when, they said, many local residents would be unable to attend because of their work schedules.
The House Natural Resources Committee chairman, Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, has no particular interest in what happens with the more than 87,000 acres of land Elliotsville Plantation Inc. hopes to donate to the federal government, along with a $40 million endowment to manage the parcel as a national monument. Instead, he seeks to spread his notion that federal ownership of land is a horrible thing.
Bishop, who will attend the Maine hearing, has a long history of grandstanding against public lands. He co-chairs a small group of lawmakers who seek to give federally owned land to the states. His Public Lands Initiative legislation would expedite oil and gas leases on and greatly expand vehicle access to land in Utah. It also would quash an effort by a coalition of 25 Native American tribes, along with land conservation groups, to protect land that contains thousands of antiquities as a national monument.
Last year, Bishop called the Antiquities Act, which presidents have used to preserve storied American places such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Acadia, “the most evil act ever invented.”
Speaking at a meeting of the Western States Land Commissioner Association in July, Bishop said: “If anyone likes the Antiquities Act, the way it is written, die,” he said. “I need stupidity out of the gene pool.”
This doesn’t sound like a very open-minded person to lead a congressional committee hearing to gather diverse input from Maine residents about a possible national monument here. Bishop said the committee didn’t have time to include more people and perspectives in the Maine hearing.
Beyond its bias, there is no need for this hearing. The director of the National Park Service was in Maine less than two weeks ago. Along with King, he met with municipal and business leaders in the Katahdin region and attended a packed public hearing in Orono, where dozens of people — supporters and opponents of a monument designation — spoke for hours. Boxes were also stuffed with written comments, which Jarvis said he will review before making a recommendation to President Barack Obama on whether to designation the land as a national monument.
Further, there is no bill before Congress to create a national park in Maine, so there is no need for the committee to gather evidence.
Instead, Bishop’s one-sided road show is being used to bolster fellow Republican Bruce Poliquin, who asked for the hearing and is in a tight re-election race against Democrat Emily Cain. Poliquin, who has introduced legislation to handcuff presidents who seek to use the Antiquities Act, is attempting to make the national monument a significant issue in the campaign. Polls have shown strong support for a national park, with even voters in the more conservative and rural 2nd Congressional District backing the plan.
Mainers have spoken out about a national monument in the Katahdin region, and they should continue to do so. Wednesday’s field hearing makes no attempt to continue that honest and productive dialogue.