Monument Debate Not Going Away

By Beacon Staff

The U.S. Department of Interior has released the full draft memo of discussions the Obama administration had with environmental groups about designating lands in Montana and elsewhere national monuments. That, however, doesn’t mean the controversy is going away anytime soon.

Sen. Jon Tester has reiterated that – based on his conversations with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar – no new monuments would be designated without public input and posted the full memo, part of which was leaked earlier this year, on his website (read it hear .pdf). His spokesman also sent out a statement last week:

“Jon had an opportunity to read the whole draft memo after seeing it for the first time Friday and he’s pleased that it mentions the importance of public support and participation for future land planning. This is in line with what Secretary Salazar told Jon directly—that any plans from the Interior Department need broad public support before moving forward.”

But Congressman Denny Rehberg, who has been at odds with Tester over this issue, says disclosing the memo settles nothing.

“While I’m glad the Department of Interior has finally released these pages, I can certainly understand why they wanted to keep them a secret. A single sentence acknowledging the benefit of public input won’t appease Montanans when the rest of the document lays out plans to circumvent that input if it doesn’t fall in line with the pre-constructed plans of unelected Washington bureaucrats. The new pages make a disturbing case for bypassing Congress with a unilateral Presidential designation of National Monuments. This was the worst-case scenario, and it’s no longer hypothetical.”

Rehberg argues that the Interior Department is still withholding more than 2,000 pages of pertinent documents. He says notes from a “brainstorming” session, maps and any communication “with any person or entity outside of the Department of the Interior” should also be disclosed.

The congressman is hosting an event Friday, Aug. 20, at the Lewistown Civic Center that will include “land owners, public officials and other stake holders from the areas under consideration for monument designation.”

At this point, whether a new national monument is a real threat to landowners is almost a side note. The longer this issue percolates, the better it is for Rehberg politically. And for that, Democrats have no one to blame but themselves and their Interior Department, which should have sought public input at the beginning of its monument discussions.

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