Trump signs order to end 'egregious abuse' of national monuments

President Trump ordered federal officials to review two decades of national monument designations, calling them “another egregious abuse of federal power.”

At a Wednesday signing ceremony, Trump framed the order as a way to return power to states and individuals after former President Obama and his predecessors blocked development on hundreds of millions of acres of federal land and water by creating monuments.

“Today I’m signing an executive order to end another egregious abuse of federal power and to give that power back to the states and to the people, where it belongs,” Trump said before signing the order at the headquarters of the Interior Department, which oversees most monuments and will be responsible for the review.

“The previous administration used a 100-year-old law known as the Antiquities Act to unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control,” he said.

“Today, we are putting the states back in charge. It’s a big thing,” Trump continued.

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The order is aimed primarily at the highly controversial Bears Ears National Monument, a 1.3 million-acre site in Utah that Obama designated in December. His action protected areas sacred to American Indian tribes but also prevented any potential development, like oil and gas drilling.

Trump said the designation happened “over the profound objections of the citizens of Utah.” Utah Republican Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Yale Law School students, alumni denounce Trump Supreme Court pick MORE and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE GOP senator moves to restart Pentagon report on NATO allies' spending MORE and Gov. Gary Herbert (R) were in attendance at the ceremony in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s ornate, wood-paneled office.

"He would call me and call me and say 'you gotta do this,'" Trump recalled of his conversations with Hatch. “You didn’t stop. He doesn’t give up.”

“Tremendously positive things are going to happen on that incredible land,” he said of Bears Ears.

The review covers all monument designations over 100,000 acres going back to 1996, which includes more than three dozen monuments.

That was the year President Clinton designated the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, a highly controversial monument that shut down proposed mining.

Under the Antiquities Act, presidents have nearly unlimited power to create national monuments on land the federal government already owns.

Those designations can block oil and natural gas drilling, mining, grazing, fishing or other land uses, depending on the circumstances.

The Antiquities Act has long been a tool presidents have used to cement legacies. Obama protected more land and water through the law than any other president.

Trump is asking Zinke to recommend any changes that he believes are necessary, including changes to the designations or legislative changes to the underlying law itself.

Conservationists and legal experts say Trump doesn’t have the power to rescind or greatly reduce the size of a monument. Conservatives disagree, and Zinke on Tuesday said the issue is untested in the federal courts.

But Trump is so far not presuming that he has any particular power.

The coalition of five tribes that fought for the Bears Ears monument designation and that are working to manage it alongside federal officials slammed Trump’s order.

“It is extremely troubling that after years of effort to protect ancestral Native lands, President Trump and Secretary Zinke plan to give a cursory look at Bears Ears National Monument,” Carleton Bowekaty, a councilman in the Zuni Tribe and co-chairman of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, said in a statement.

“This so-called ‘review’ creates a process to attack the designation of Bears Ears National Monument, and all public lands that are cherished by the American people.”

Conservation groups also slammed Trump’s order.

“This executive order calling for ‘review’ of national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act is an affront to every American who enjoys our national parks and historic sites, and an injustice to the future generations who should inherit them,” said Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society.

But Trump’s allies applauded the action as a long-overdue move to rein in executive overreach.

“The Antiquities Act is a century-old law that has been hijacked by executive overreach in recent years. While designating monuments is a noble goal, this law, like many others, has strayed far from its original purpose,” said Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders jockey for affection of House conservatives Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump walks back criticism of UK Brexit strategy | McConnell worries US in 'early stages' of trade war | US trade deficit with China hits new record MORE (R-Wis.).

“I commend the Trump administration for stopping this cycle of executive abuse and beginning a review of past designations.”