President Barack Obama announced Thursday evening the unilateral creation of three new national monuments to honor America’s civil rights history, along with adding tens of thousands of acres to two existing West Coast monuments.
Obama announced the creation of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument in and Freedom Riders National Monument in Alabama. Obama also created the Reconstruction Era National Monument in South Carolina using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
“They tell the important stories of the citizens who helped launch the civil rights movement in Birmingham and the Freedom Riders whose bravery raised national awareness of segregation and violence,” Obama said in a statement. “These stories are part of our shared history.”
“I am also expanding existing areas for some of our country’s treasured and historic natural resources in Oregon and California today, including stretches of California’s scenic coast and unique wildlife habitat in rugged mountain ranges and forests in Oregon and California,” Obama said.
Obama expanded the California Coastal National Monument by 6,230 acres to include six more iconic sites along the state’s coast. The White House said the designation was based on 2015 legislation from California lawmakers, though it was never passed.
The president also increased the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument by another 42,000 acres in Oregon and 5,000 acres in California. Obama said the monuments are vital to “protect the most important public lands for the benefit of future generations.”
While the civil rights monuments are largely uncontroversial, the expansion of the two West Coast monuments is bound to draw criticism from Republican lawmakers who are urging President-elect Donald Trump to undo Obama’s monument designations.
Obama has created more national monuments than any other president, putting roughly 553 million acres of land and water under stricter federal control. Some of Obama’s most contentious designations have come in the final weeks of his time in office, including creating the 1.6-million-acre Bears Ears monument in Utah against objections from locals.
Republicans are he’s abusing his Antiquities Act authority by making it harder to ranch, drill, log or do anything else on wide swaths of public lands.
Republicans say Trump can either shrink Obama’s monument designations or undo them entirely.
“Anything that you create by executive fiat can be changed by executive fiat,” said Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, Politico reported. “That should be one of the things they do.”
Utah threatened to sue Obama over the creation of Bears Ears, and the state said it will work with Trump to undo the designation.
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