In midnight executive order, Obama seizes 1.5 million acres by pretending they're 'national monuments'

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Published by: Dan Calabrese on Thursday December 29th, 2016

Ideological combat.

When you think of a national monument, you probably think of a beautiful statue or some stately structure that honors a former president. They're nice to have, nice to go look at. You probably don't think of a "national monument" as 1.5 million acres of land that contains crucial natural resources the nation needs, but thanks to the national monument designation, can't touch.

Welcome once again to the final days of the Obama presidency, in which the whole point is to take abuse of executive power to new and, Obama homes, irreversible new heights. Screw your neighbors. Screw your own country. You've got nothing to lose at this point, and you think you've come up with a way to do it that leaves your successor helpless to reverse your abuses once you're gone. One day it's drilling in the Atlantic and the Arctic. The next it's the de facto declaration of war against one of your best allies.

Now you've decided to make official what you've long believed - that all property ultimately belongs to the state, whose primary interest in said property is to prevent said land from ever benefiting the people in any way. And if that means you're seizing 1.5 million acres on the thinnest of premises, hey, you're Barack Obama. At this point, it's what you do:

The White House announced that The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah will cover 1.35 million acres in the Four Corners region. The move is a victory for Native American tribes and conservationists for whom the land is considered sacred, but sparked intense opposition from Republicans.

"This arrogant act by a lame duck president will not stand," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah., tweeted.

The president also announced a 300,000-acre Gold Butte National Monument outside Las Vegas that will protect an ecologically fragile area that includes rock art, artifacts and fossils.

. . . 

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz said Obama had ruined a bipartisan compromise in the works.

"After years of painstaking negotiations with a diverse coalition, Utah had a comprehensive bipartisan solution on the table that would have protected the Bears Ears and provided a balanced solution. Instead, the president's midnight proclamation cherry picked provisions of the Public Lands Initiative and disregarded the economic development and multi-use provisions necessary for a balanced compromise,” he said.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said his office is planning a lawsuit over the issue.

“It is extremely disappointing that President Obama has declared another national monument here in Utah, ignoring the voices of so many in our state, particularly those closest to the designated space,” Reyes said. “By significantly restricting access to a large portion of public lands in Utah, the President weakens land management capabilities and fails to protect those the Antiquities Act intended to benefit.”

Obama sees governing as a form of ideological combat. However much he may pretend he wants to help Trump get off to a good start, his actions say exactly the opposite. This gigantic federal land grab is only the latest example of Obama cleverly abusing executive powers in his waning days to hamstring the incoming administration, while structuring his actions in such a way that Trump can't simply revoke what Obama has done.

As it did with the banning of offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic, the White House is arguing that the action is irreversible because the enabling statute expressly gives the president power to designate national monuments, but grants no corresponding power to remove such a designation. One could argue that any time you grant a president power to take an action, it's understood that he also has the power to revoke the action. Trump might attempt to make that argument, although in this case he might not need to because he has a couple of other ways he could proceed. One is to work with Congress to change the statute. Another is to choose not to defend against the lawsuit Utah will likely bring - although that wouldn't cover the Nevada issue.

If you want, you can argue that these are good policy decisions Obama is making. I would certainly disagree, but you can try. What you can't answer, though, is this: If Obama thought these were defensible actions, why didn't he take them before the election? Why not go ahead and do this, then tell Hillary to hit the campaign trail and tell the voters they should elect her so they could have more of this sort of thing?

Why not do the same thing with the Screw Israel resolution and the drilling ban? If you really think you can defend them as policy, why wait until you're on your way out the door to do them? Hmm?

Because you can't defend them as policy, and Obama knows it. They're parting gifts to his ideological base that would have presented huge political problems if they'd been done before the election, and he and everyone else knows it. If Obama had taken these actions in October, Hillary would have had a conniption fit because she would have been put in the impossible position of having to defend them. That's why he waited.

What he hopes to do now is scorch so much earth between now and Jan. 20 that it's virtually iimpossible for Trump to govern as he and the nation want him to. Why? Because Obama is engaged in ideological combat, and this is how he fights. He knows you don't like it. He doesn't care. That's the point. You can't do anything about it, so screw you. And screw America.

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