President Trump on Wednesday will order the Interior Department to review 20 years' worth of monument designations on federal land across the country.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters he will consider whether monument designations at up to 40 sites should be “rescinded, resized or modified in order to better benefit our public lands.”
The order signals the beginning of a major review of federal land use and monument designations’ impact on employment and land access for industry groups, companies and individuals.
The order will ask Interior to suggest legislative fixes to the 110-year-old Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the power to set aside land for preservation with limited public input or formal review.
The review itself won’t strip monument designations, and Zinke said Trump’s review aims to see “if any improvements can be made” and to “give state and local communities a meaningful voice in the process.”
Zinke’s report — due to the White House within 120 days — comes amid loud criticism from Republicans and industry groups over former President Obama’s designation of the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument in December. The other “bookend” of the review, Zinke said, is the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that President Clinton created in 1996, a decision that drew criticism from mining firms.
The review will focus only on monuments of 100,000 acres or larger, both on land and in federal water.
Zinke told reporters he would not “predispose what the outcome is going to be” on any of the monuments, including Bears Ears. He said any reforms he proposes would focus on opening the door to more public input on monument designations.
He acknowledged that public concerns over monument designations — which have larger average footprints today than ever before — spurred the administration’s review.
“In this case, the administration has heard from members of Congress and states, and in some cases the designation of the monuments may have resulted in the lose of jobs, reduced wages and reduced public access,” he said.
The review is likely to kick off a lobbying blitz at the Interior Department. Conservation groups — and supporters of individual monuments like Bears Ears — have already warned the Trump administration not to go too far in changing any designations or overhauling the Antiquities Act.
“This executive order is the beginning of an all-out assault on America’s public lands,” Center for Western Priorities Executive Director Jennifer Rokala said in a statement.
“The outcome of this review is preordained: it will be used in an attempt to eliminate or shrink national monuments. Any attempt by President Trump to erase or shrink national monuments will meet strong resistance from the American people and the legal system.”
Lawmakers are also set to spar over the review, as well. Western conservatives have called for reforms to the Antiquities Act and the president’s monument-making power, while Democrats have generally defended the designations.
Industry groups lambasted Obama’s decisions to set aside land that could otherwise be used for mining, drilling or other industrial activities. Businesses and industry groups have so far had the Trump White House’s ear on environmental and conservation issues, and Zinke said Tuesday the public should end up with more input than they have now.
“The core of this is to make sure the public has a voice,” he said. “That’s who I work for, that’s who the president works for, is the people. Let's give the people a voice on this.”