Adding to his already impressive record of conservation, President Obama on Friday announced the designation of three new National Monuments on public land in three different states. The move, which designated Basin and Range National Monument in Nevada, Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in California, and Waco Mammoth National Monument in Texas, assured permanent protection of more than a million acres of nearly untouched american wilderness – an area larger than Rhode Island – for the use and enjoyment of future generations. The new federally-protected lands encompass pristine mountains in California, rugged desert in Nevada, and the site of an enormous fossil find in Texas.
Today’s announcement marks only the most recent instance of Obama’s prolific use of the Antiquities Act, which allows the president to set aside existing federally-owned land as national parks and monuments for future protection and was signed into law by the great conservationist Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. President Obama has already invoked the act to create 16 different national monuments and has set aside more public lands and waters for permanent public use and preservation than any president in history. Today’s designations were in part a response to demands for permanent protection of the three sites by local communities and national conservation groups like the League of Conservation Voters, whose head, Gene Karpinski, rightfully lauded the president for “continuing his commitment to protecting America’s treasured places and cementing his place in conservation history.”
Of course whenever there is a clearly righteous cause in the public interest – preserving America’s unique natural heritage for example – there are bound to be Republicans who oppose it. Nevada Representative Cresent Hardy said that he was “appalled and deeply concerned” about the designation of basin and range national monument in his home state because of the potential “national security implications,” a concern that all officials have discounted as a non-issue. The attack was part of a larger campaign by a group of Koch-backed House Republicans with the laughable name “No More National Parks” who recently introduced a bill to prevent the use of federal money for the creation of new national monuments in certain Western states.
Why, one might ask, would so many Republicans oppose such a clearly beneficial and near-universally supported policy as conservation of beautiful public lands? The answer, as is so depressingly often the case, is the influence of big money and specifically the malicious designs of the Koch Brothers and their dystopian energy conglomerate. The Kochs and the politician stooges who do their bidding have launched a campaign to “take back out national parks,” by which they mean privatize and eviscerate some of America’s most treasured landscapes – by handing them over to Koch Industries specifically – for use as oil drilling fields. Luckily, even the Kochs’ dirty oil money hasn’t been enough to buy off America’s love of our most beautiful landscapes and pristine national parks, and President Obama today proudly reaffirmed our commitment to warding off the Kochs’ malicious attempts at sabotaging our national heritage for petty self-enrichment.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.