Trump's monument plan still shrouded in secrecy

Trump's monument plan still shrouded in secrecy
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The Trump administration’s plans to potentially shrink some national monuments remain shrouded in secrecy. 

President Trump had set Thursday as a deadline for Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkePatagonia files suit against Trump cuts to Utah monuments Presidential power over monuments should have checks and balances Overnight Regulation: Feds push to clarify regs on bump stocks | Interior wants Trump to shrink two more monuments | Navajo Nation sues over monument rollback | FCC won't delay net neutrality vote | Senate panel approves bill easing Dodd-Frank rules MORE to submit recommendations to him for what areas of land and water protected by previous presidents as monuments should have their designations changed.

Zinke was expected to reveal his proposals publicly Thursday as well. But he did not, instead releasing a two-page summary of the process behind his considerations and telling the Associated Press that he’s recommending reductions in the size of an unspecified “handful” of national monuments.

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Interior and the White House say the document Zinke sent to Trump was a “draft” that can’t be released publicly while officials review it and make potential changes.

Environmentalists, Democrats and liberal groups were already angry at Trump and Zinke for even considering undoing major monuments created in the last two decades, which are often operated like national parks.

But withholding the recommendations spurred a new flurry of condemnation from Trump’s opponents and charges that the administration is not living up to its promises of transparency in the monument review process.

“It’s pretty astonishing how thin the details they released were. We learned more from reading between the lines of the AP story than we did from the summary report,” said Kate Kelly, public lands director at the Center for American Progress and a former senior adviser at Interior in the Obama administration.

Many of Obama’s biggest monument designations, like Bears Ears in Utah and the expansion of Papahanaumokuakea in the Pacific Ocean, are the main targets of the Trump administration’s review. 

“And as additional details continue to leak out from various sources, it’s becoming increasingly clear just how devastating the recommendations will be, which is in direct contrast with Zinke’s spin that there’s just a handful of small changes,” Kelly said.

Numerous groups also filed Freedom of Information Act requests to try to obtain the recommendations. 

But supporters of the monument review, such as industries that use federal land like ranching and energy, aren’t concerned, and are confident that Zinke heard their concerns throughout the review process. 

“I have to laugh a little bit at the idea of them now demanding some sort of really rigid process for the use of the Antiquities Act, when the entire point of this is that there are very few controls over exactly how the Antiquities Act can be and should be used,” said Ethan Lane, executive director of the Public Lands Council, a part of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Lane said he isn’t concerned about when Zinke will release the findings. 

“Regardless of the result that comes from that, however big or small or whatever changes he might recommend, we’re gratified to see that they took the time to actually talk to some of those who are impacted and really take a hard look at the consequences from these monuments,” he said.

The few available details about Zinke’s conclusions come from the interview he gave to AP while in Montana for a meeting about a major wildfire.

He said he’s seeking a reduction in the size of a “handful” of the more than two-dozen monuments under review, but he doesn’t want any eliminated.

Zinke said it was important to balance land protection with public access.

“There’s an expectation we need to look out 100 years from now to keep the public land experience alive in this country,” he told AP. “You can protect the monument by keeping public access to traditional uses.”

But he didn’t specify which monuments should be shrunk, by how much or where. Greens suspect that means massive areas could be at risk. 

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“Secretary Zinke’s apparent decision to roll back protections for national monuments and his failure to disclose the details of that decision is monumentally out of touch with the will of the American people,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife. “We have a right to know how he intends to change monument designations, and which of these special places are at risk.”

Later Thursday, the Washington Post and the New York Times reported that Zinke wants at least three monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, reduced. 

The Post reported that Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon is also on the shrinking list, while the Times said that an unidentified fourth monument is also being eyed for reduction. 

The Bangor Daily News, meanwhile, reported that the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine would stay intact under the recommendations, though Zinke may try to open the area to more uses like logging.  

Throughout the review process, Zinke also announced six monuments that he would see to keep whole, leaving 21 in limbo. 

Zinke’s summary report released to the public Thursday also offers clues to his thinking.

“Adherence to the [Antiquities] Act’s definition of an ‘object’ and ‘smallest area compatible’ clause on some monuments were either arbitrary or likely politically motivated or boundaries could not be supported by science or reasons of practical resource management,” he wrote in part.

Later, Zinke wrote that the public comments submitted during the review were “overwhelmingly” in favor of keeping monuments, but he judged that that “demonstrated a well-orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations. 

The rest of Zinke’s suggestions remain to be seen. But that hasn’t stopped the various sides from preparing for their next steps.

Greens stand ready to sue to stop any monument reduction, arguing that since the Antiquities Act doesn’t mention monument revocations, Trump does not have the power to do so. 

Republicans and industry, meanwhile, are looking farther out, hoping to use the report as a springboard towards changing the Antiquities Act. They want to make it harder for presidents to create monuments without congressional approval. 

“We need to reform the Antiquities Act to ensure that it’s being used to protect antiquities, but also that there is public access to this land and public input to it and it’s done in a transparent process, and that’s not being done at this time,” Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopRyan picks his negotiating team for tax cut bill Trump really will shrink government, starting with national monuments Five things to know about Trump's national monuments order MORE (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, told reporters.

“The intent has clearly been violated, and we need to return to that intent, and make sure that it is use appropriately.”