Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, in a speech to the National Press Club on October 31, said if Congress doesn't act to protect threatened public land, President Obama will.
She chastised Congress for going three years without protecting a single new acre of land as a national park or wilderness.
The Energy and Environment News [sub] covered her speech:
"If Congress doesn't step up to act to protect some of these important places that have been identified by communities and people throughout the country, then the president will take action," Jewell said, suggesting that Congress pass another omnibus lands bill. "There's no question that if Congress doesn't act, we will."She noted that while the administration prefers that Congress pass Omnibus public lands legislation---like it did in 2009---President Obama would not hesitate to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to create new national monuments.
She did not specify which areas would be top priorities.
"I guess I haven’t seen anything yet where everybody agrees on everything, but certainly where there is a groundswell of support we will focus our energies,” she said. “We won’t be focusing our energies where there is a tremendous amount of conflict.”
While this is encouraging news, and was met by praise from conservation organizations, there aren't very many wild areas that aren't subject to "some amount of conflict"---usually by oil, gas, and mining interests---otherwise Congress would have protected them long ago.
Historically, many of our iconic national parks like the Grand Canyon were first protected by presidential order because opposition by locals and by developers kept Congress from acting. One notable recent example was President Clinton's creation of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah in 1996.
Southern Utah continues to be the focus of current efforts to protect our wild landscapes, with a proposal to create a Greater Canyonlands National Monument. This proposal is (of course) opposed by the Republican members of the Utah Congressional delegation, but it is supported by a wide range of organizations, including the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other members of the Utah Wilderness Coalition.
The Sierra Club has put together a short list of proposed national monuments that could cement Barack Obama's environmental legacy with one stroke of the pen. See http://www.sierraclub.org/....
Secretary Jewell noted that having just returned from a visit to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, some places should never be opened to oil and gas drilling. And, remarking on the silver lining of the government shutdown of national parks and monuments she said,
"To quote a well-known line from a Joni Mitchell song, 'You don't know what you've got till it's gone.'"