by Tom Kenworthy
Voters who tuned in to the most recent presidential debate may have come away with the impression that the country’s vast portfolio of public lands exists almost solely for oil, gas and coal development.
But even though it hasn’t gotten as much attention, President Obama has recently been demonstrating the power he holds thanks to the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows him to protect important parts of the federal estate by declaring them national monuments. Signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt, the act has been used by most presidents – of both parties – in the years since to protect special public lands, including quite a few that have gone on to receive full national park status by Congress.
Earlier this month, the president created his fourth monument in less than a year, the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene, California. The designation honors the late civil rights worker and founder of the United Farm Workers who did so much to further the cause of itinerant field laborers, many of them Hispanic.
As usual, some congressional Republicans called the Chavez monument designation an abuse of presidential power. And, like Captain Renault in the film “Casablanca,” some ...