The Trump administration is moving to reduce or remove "national monument" designations made by President Clinton and Obama. In this effort, they are peddling "alternative facts" about monuments that just are not true.
As chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, I led the effort on behalf of President Clinton to establish the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Located in southern Utah. The monument is home to fantastic geological formations, native grasses, rare species and extraordinary Anasazi ruins.
At the time Clinton acted, the land also was threatened by a push by some members of Congress to take away environmental protections and pave the way for a foreign company to develop large-scale coalmines and transportation facilities. The monument designation helped to rally people in Utah and around the country to the cause of ensuring continued protection.
Now, the Trump administration would have you believe that monuments are a "federal land grab," essentially seizing and locking up privately owned property.
That’s just not true.
National monument designations can only be had for properties already part of federal landholdings. The land in question in Utah was part of the Bureau of Land Management of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
In addition, President Trump paints a picture of burdensome new regulations bearing down on properties designated as national monuments. Again, not true. Any use allowed on the property before a designation — like grazing and logging for example — is retained. Instead, the main impact is to recognize and celebrate priceless natural and cultural resources on lands already owned by the American people.
Underlying the administration's misinformation campaign is the stubborn myth they promote that protecting the environment takes a wrecking ball to the economy. Once again, absolutely not true. The real facts are to the contrary. When we take action to tackle pollution for example, we cut waste and boost the bottom line. When we get serious about climate change we put tens of thousands to work building renewable energy systems and making energy efficient equipment. And when it comes to protected lands, businesses grow as recreation and tourism are added to the local economy.
Americans need no reminder that our country is polarized and divided on so many issues. The environment generally and our great natural treasures should bring us together. Parks, forests, key historic and cultural sites are quite literally our shared common ground. Many people make visiting every one of our national parks their "bucket list." Same with national monuments and rightly so.
In these spaces, you will delight in awesome Pueblo and Aztec ruins. You will clamber over extinct volcanoes. You will be humbled and hushed in the places marking the Revolutionary War and the founding of our country. These places recognize civil rights legends and brave leaders who have lifted this country to be a bastion of true and lasting humanity.
Now more than ever we should be holding up and putting a spotlight on these rich reminders of what binds us together as a people instead of trafficking in the stuff of discord and division as this administration seems bent on doing.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 is the landmark law that first provided for the possibility of national monument designations. It was a law championed by Teddy Roosevelt and put to work by many presidents, Republican and Democratic alike, ever since. President Trump would do well to follow their lead, bringing us together and serving as a good steward of the public trust.
Katie McGinty was the chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection