Energy & Environment

Five things to know about Trump’s national monuments order


President Trump’s order shrinking two national monuments in Utah on Monday raised the stakes in a long-simmering fight over federal public land protections.

Trump decided to dramatically shrink two large, controversial monuments in Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — after a months-long review by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Conservationists slammed the review, and Trump’s Monday announcement, while conservatives cheered it and encouraged the administration and lawmakers to go even further.

Here’s five things to know about the decision and the fight ahead.


The order is a win for industry groups and conservatives

Trump’s proclamation, which opponents say is the largest monument reduction effort in American history, was a major reward for industry groups and conservatives, especially in the West.

Industries ranging from mining and oil drilling to ranching and farming have long opposed presidential monument declarations, saying they lock down valuable federal land they could use to grow their sectors.


Western conservatives have also bristled at monument declarations, which Trump equated Monday to “federal overreach.” In shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Trump was speaking their language, warning Monday of “abuses of the Antiquities Act” that “have not just threatened your local economies, they’ve threatened your very way of life.”

“Under my administration, we will advance that protection through a truly representative process, one that listens to local communities, ones that know the land the best and ones that cherish the land the most,” he said.

“We will not only give back your voice over your use of this land, we will also restore your access and your enjoyment,” he said.


The formerly protected land is still in federal hands

Trump eliminated about 84 percent of Bears Ears and nearly half of Grand Staircase-Escalante, but that doesn’t mean the land will be sold to private owners.

The parts of the monuments that are no longer protected are still owned by the federal government, mostly the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management.

That means any proposals by private companies to develop the land, mine on it, drill for oil or natural gas or other major activities, will have to go undergo environmental and other reviews.

Grand Staircase-Escalante had been eyed in the 1990s for a potential mine. At Bears Ears, the main new activity may simply be grazing.

Oil and gas producers frequently want to increase drilling on federal land, but the industry says it’s not interested in the Bears Ears land.

The formerly protected lands in Utah are also unlikely to get into private hands anytime soon. Zinke has made a point of pushing back strongly against conservatives who want to sell large parcels of federal land or give them to states, and Trump has agreed with him.


A legal fight over the Antiquities Act is coming

Even so, opponents of Trump’s decision, including the Navajo Nation, environmental groups and outdoor equipment retailers, have long promised to challenge in court any decision from Trump to shrink or rescind a national monument.

The Antiquities Act, a 111-year-old law signed by conservation champion President Theodore Roosevelt, gives the president the power to set aside federally owned land for conservation. While presidents have used that power to modify or shrink monuments in the past, they have never done so as broadly as Trump has, and that power has never been tested in court.

That will change now, with Trump opponents vowing to sue over the changes he made Monday.

“Trump is attempting what could be the largest rollback of public lands protections in American history by axing the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments,” said Heidi McIntosh, the Rocky Mountains regional managing attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm.

“But his executive order will be illegal,” she said. “And it will be met by a roar of disapproval from the American people who love these lands and by the formidable leadership of Native American tribes for whom these lands are sacred.”

The Trump administration and its allies insist the president has the power to rescind monument declarations.


Action on other monuments may be next

Trump’s actions on monument declarations may not be over.

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are two of 27 national monuments that Zinke considered this summer for a reduction or elimination.

Zinke has said he did not recommend Trump eliminate any monuments entirely, and he periodically announced the names of monuments he would suggest the president keep intact.

But the fate of several other monuments is still up in the air. Zinke has said he recommended Trump shrink “a handful” of monuments, and media reports in September suggested he could reduce or remove some restrictions on Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou, Nevada’s Gold Butte, Maine’s Katahdin and New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte.


Congress gets a say on Antiquities Act reform

Shrinking the two Utah monuments is a landmark moment in the history of the Antiquities Act. But conservatives are attempting to revamp how the entire law itself works.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved a bill in October that would restrict the president’s ability to quickly and unilaterally declare large national monuments.

Republicans, including Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), consider the bill an important check on presidential power, and they are intent on moving the reform bill through Congress this session.

“The next steps will be to move beyond symbolic gestures of protection and create substantive protections and enforcement and codify in law a meaningful management role for local governments, tribes and other stakeholders,” Bishop said in a Monday statement.

Democrats have vowed to resist any effort to diminish the presidential monument-making power, setting up potential fights if the bill moves to the House floor and the Senate.

—Timothy Cama contributed

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