The final mid-term election of a presidency typically represents the last election of consequence for the President, and the point where Presidents demonstrate an increased willingness to take actions that are politically unpopular or controversial.
While Presidential pardons are perhaps the most notable of these politically unpopular lame-duck actions, the President’s monument designation authority is certainly the most closely watched among land-use industries like the oil & gas industry because it can be used to restrict large areas of public land from all future development.
Executive authority to designate areas as national monuments comes from the Antiquities Act of 1906. It was intended to provide the President nimble authority to unilaterally protect Native American ruins and artifacts, but the wording of the statute has allowed it to be used far more broadly.
Executive authority to designate and expand upon national monuments is capacious and allows Presidents to restrict access to millions of acres of public lands. This unilateral proclamation, often made to appease environmental interests without Congressional or public input, could be used by President Obama to restrict access to federal lands and waters that are important to the oil & gas industry, and others.
President Obama has, so far, exercised this power thirteen times; President George W. Bush used it five times, and President Clinton used it nineteen. President Obama, however, has used it to designate more than 260 million acres of land and water as national monuments—almost three times more than any other President.
Most recently, the President designated 350,000 acres of the San Gabriels Mountains in California as a national monument. At the ceremony, President Obama announced that he’s “not finished,” and that his administration is “looking at additional opportunities to preserve federal lands and waters.” As President Obama enters into the final two years of his term, he will likely increasingly use his monument authority to designate more lands and waters as national monuments and may also seek to restrict access to oil and gas drilling development and other land use industries as well.