Earlier this month, President Joe Biden visited Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona to announce the establishment of a new national monument: the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument

Critics of the designation contend this new monument, comprising about a million acres, would close off access to multiple uses—including grazing and mining—should it proceed. 

It is the fifth national monument established by the Biden administration and will encompass nearly one million public land acres. It’ll be co-managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and local Tribal groups. Biden has made national monument designations a priority under his Day One climate directives and his administration’s 30-by-30 (or America the Beautiful) initiative goals.

A White House Fact Sheet reads, “Since day one, President Biden has delivered on the most ambitious climate and conservation agenda in American history. That includes the President’s America the Beautiful Initiative, which is supporting locally led conservation efforts across the country with a goal to conserve and restore 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.”

The designation is primarily aimed at blocking any future mining opportunities—primarily uranium—there, despite a 20-year ban on uranium mining already in effect in the area surrounding the national park.

Uranium Mining Already Banned Near the Grand Canyon

In 2012, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar enacted a Public Land Order to withdraw one million acres from new mining claims and sites until 2032. This decision affected 3,200 mining claims. 

The press release said the rule wouldn’t “prohibit previously approved uranium mining, new projects that could be approved on claims and sites with valid existing rights.” The withdrawal said other natural resource development like “mineral leasing, geothermal leasing and mineral materials sales” would be allowable “to the extent consistent with the applicable land use plans.” 

This monument designation, however, would permanently close off these working lands not already covered under the 2012 Public Land Rule. 

The Congressional Western Caucus equated the move to a land grab that strays from multiple-use management of public lands. They contend the new designation will prohibit lawful mining and livestock grazing opportunities while “shutting down resource development on public lands, exacerbating supply chain issues, and increasing reliance on foreign nations for important minerals and fuels.”

House Natural Resources Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) argued these designations generally undermine multiple-use management of public lands—recreation and commercial activities—as authorized under the Federal Policy Land Policy and Management Act

Is this New Monument in Violation of the Antiquities Act? 

While the President has “sole discretion” to designate national monuments on existing federal lands, there is debate over the size and scope of recent designations. 

Section II of the Antiquities Act of 1906 says national monuments “shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” 

Does one million acres—including the new Arizona monument—meet the criteria for “smallest area compatible”? Or should the designation be sized down significantly per the law? Congress has the authority to clarify the law but hasn’t yet. 

As I noted in a recent IWF Unicorn Fact Check, the Supreme Court could hear a challenge to presidential authority granted by the Antiquities Act: 

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts warned in 2021 that a challenge to the Antiquities Act “may warrant consideration—especially given the myriad restrictions on public use this purely discretionary designation can serve to justify.” 

This is where Congress can step in and clarify presidential powers. It previously limited presidential authority over monument designations in Alaska and Wyoming. In 2017, Congressional Republicans proposed a bill to offer “more transparency and stakeholder input”—namely a proposal to “require presidents to attain Congressional approval, approval of affected state legislatures, and proof of certification of compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before proceeding” with respect to designations.

These designations are often seen as anti-democratic because radical environmental groups directly petition the President—usually Democrat ones—and ignore stakeholder input. Worse, they often diminish public access for hunters and anglers because they don’t take wildlife management into account. 

In response to the Arizona news, Utah Governor Spencer Cox (R-UT) warned the designation could affect grazing rights and other economic interests of his constituents operating on the AZ-UT border. He also chastised the Biden administration for pushing a “fairy tale” policy that protects public land while making it off-limits to the public. 

Cox added large national monuments, including the re-enlarged Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, are in direct violation of the Antiquities Act and do little to protect actual antiquities. 

“I was told more artifacts are being destroyed because of this monument designation,” Cox told a Utah NPR affiliate. “More of the landscapes are being trampled on because people are coming from all over the country and all over the world to see this new monument. People who never would have come there before.”

As the debate over national monument designations heats up, Congress should deliberate finetuning presidential authority and ensure multiple uses—both recreational and commercial—continue on these public lands. 

To learn more about national monuments, go HERE.