by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As Appearing in the American Spectator
What if I were to suggest turning all of New York into a national monument? OK, maybe we would exclude the gigantic city, but the rest of that beautiful state could be our newest national monument. You might instinctively see a couple major problems with my idea. There are other cities and towns in the state, for example, so we could exclude those. But national monuments are government property, you might argue, whereas almost all of that state is private land. It generates billions in property taxes that would be lost, since government land is not taxed. Anyway, the government would have to own it somehow before it could become a national monument, either by confiscating it or buying it. Congress would never agree to that! But what if I could suggest a way to do it, without troubling Congress, and without the government having to pay anything?
Let’s say a partnership of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, and Michael Bloomberg secretly pooled their resources to buy all that land. Then suppose they turned around and donated it to the National Park Service, which can legally accept donated land. Then, once the land was owned by the government, the President used his power under the Antiquities Act to declare it a national monument. Done. No public process, no Congressional authorization, no appropriations, no vote by anybody anywhere.
That may sound far-fetched, and perhaps it is, but only because of the sheer size of a state. What if it were a bit smaller tract, say the Hudson River Valley, or all of the Adirondacks? If you think it is unlikely that a wealthy clique could make such a private deal with a President, to turn a large tract of private land into federal land, you would be mistaken. That is precisely how our newest National Monument was acquired, Maine’s Katahdin Woods & Waters.