WASHINGTON, June 1 (UPI) -- Environmentalists are pushing U.S. President Barack Obama to designate more federal lands as monument sites to prevent expanded oil and gas drilling.
The Sierra Club, a leading environmental lobbying group in Washington, is prepared to roll out a push dubbed "Our Wild America" to get Obama to designate more federal monument sites.
Sierra Club President Dan Chu told Roll Call the issue should be a winner for Democrats in the 2014 midterm election, with voters, particularly Latinos in increasingly Democratic-leaning western states, in favor of more national monument sites.
"We think there's real opportunities for them to do additional monument designations by the midterm elections and that it's a positive political thing for the administration and for senators and congressmen," Chu said.
Obama has the authority to designate national monument sites even if there's no actual monument erected. The designation makes the locale off limits to private drilling under a dated federal law.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is opposed to the Sierra Club plan, arguing decisions about how to use vast tracts of public land should be made by Congress after thorough vetting and a public debate -- not by executive decree.
"Chairman Hastings firmly believes that additions to the National Park System and major land-use decisions that impact local communities and economies should be the result of careful public review and a vote by Congress. It should not be a unilateral decision imposed by the president under a centuries-old outdated law," said Mallory Micetich, a committee spokeswoman.
An Interior Department spokesman said the agency isn't opposed to the Sierra Club's proposal but that it should come in partnership with citizens and local municipalities who favor the plan as well.