Three months after Breitbart News and others outed Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) backdoor effort to freeze development on over one million acres of California dessert by having President Obama declare the area subject to the Antiquities Act of 1906, her efforts are going down in flames as Congressional Republicans are moving to ban the Antiquities designation.
Feinstein’s seven-year quest to convince “ongress to sequester over 1560 square miles of the Mojave Desert into three new national monuments under her proposed ‘Desert Conservation and Recreation Act” has gone nowhere. Feinstein has argued that the area she wants designated as ‘Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains’ is home to mountain lions, the California desert tortoise and bighorn sheep. But the real effort is to ban off-roaders, hunters and miners.
The Senator had faced opposition from an unusual coalition of sustainable energy developers, wilderness advocates, off-road vehicle users, military bases, energy companies and American Indian tribes. By trying to circumvent Congress through artificially tying up the property with a phony search for non-existent artifacts, she has incensed Republicans and upset many Democrats, who worry about future Presidential actions.
U.S. Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA), whose district covers the area Feinstein wants restricted, complained at a Congressional hearing in September that the Antiquities Act “sets in motion a Washington-based management plan that can sharply curtail recreational and economic activities. I’m deeply concerned that outreach efforts to the public have been hasty and inadequate.”
Cook, a retired U.S. Marine Colonel who won a Bronze Star and has two Purple Hearts from combat duty in the Vietnam War, has said that when he heard about Feinstein’s backdoor efforts, his number one goal was to stop Presidential action.
Cook is a staunch military supporter and sits on the powerful Armed Services, Veterans,’ and Foreign Services Committees. The military is a substantial user of the terrain that Feinstein wants walled off. Because the area contains the remnants of General George Patton’s World War II training camps, national security interests have been lobbying Cook to lead the opposition against Feinstein’s Congressional end run.
The California Chamber of Commerce and the California Taxpayers Association both oppose the Antiquities designation and have given Cook perfect 100 percent ratings for each year since he was first elected in 2007. They have lobbied the congressman to oppose any executive order by President Barack Obama regarding the area.
On October 1, 2015, Congressman Cook introduced HR 3668 , the California Minerals, Off-Road Recreation, and Conservation Act (CMORCA). He described the bill as “a balanced approach to protecting, managing, and using our desert and forest areas in San Bernardino and Inyo Counties.” But the bill also bans designating the area under the Antiquities Act.
Cook’s bill creates would create a National Monument, but also opens 100,000 acres to mining, and designates Johnson Valley and five more off-highway vehicle areas as “National OHV recreation areas.”
The new designation would ban commercial development in those areas if the Secretary of the Interior determines the development is incompatible with the purpose of the bill. But the bill sets up the opportunity for development to be approved in a future Republican administration.
Although Senator Feinstein has continually claimed that desert residents are “overwhelmingly in favor” of the three monument designations she is pushing for, the City of Twentynine Palms, the City of Banning, and the San Gorgonio Pass Regional Water Alliance quickly signed on as supporters of Rep. Cook’s CMORCA.
Environmentalists have been shocked by the rising support for the CMORCA bill, which they call part of a a “radical anti-public-lands agenda” by House Natural Resources Committee Republicans, representing a “neo-sagebrush rebellion that appears to be emerging in certain Western states.”
The Rep. Cook’s California Minerals, Off-Road Recreation, and Conservation Act is expected to have its first House Natural Resources Committee hearing as early as December 9.