Energy & Environment

Judge denies bid to move lawsuit over Trump national monument rollbacks to Utah

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A federal judge in Washington, D.C., Monday denied the Trump administration’s attempt to move lawsuits challenging President Trump’s national monument rollbacks to a Utah court.

In a brief order that did not explain her reasoning, Judge Tanya Chutkan said she wouldn’t move the three cases challenging Trump’s cuts to the Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

{mosads}The Justice Department argued that since the protected areas are in Utah, the case would be appropriately heard in federal court there.

“The presidential proclamation modifying the monument was signed in Utah; the implementation of the proclamation will occur in Utah; and that implementation will most directly affect Utah residents,” attorneys for Trump wrote in similar motions in the various cases.

“Transfer is warranted because that strong local interest outweighs the District of Columbia’s tie to the claims and plaintiffs’ selection of this forum.”

Conservation and American Indian groups, including the Navajo Nation and the Sierra Club, said the D.C. court is more appropriate because parties bringing lawsuits have a degree of deference in picking the venue, among other reasons.

“We are pleased that Federal Judge Tanya S. Chutkan has agreed that it is the right of plaintiffs to choose where they sue. This includes the tribal sovereign nations seeking to protect Bears Ears and is why the lawsuits opposing Trump’s actions can rightfully be heard in a federal court in the U.S. Capital,” Nada Culver, senior counsel for the Wilderness Society, one of the groups involved with the cases, said in a statement.

“National monuments belong to all Americans and not just individual states or the special interest groups that would exploit them for mining, drilling and development,” she said.

Chutkan was nominated to the bench by former President Barack Obama, who created the original Bears Ears monument in 2016.

The cases concern Trump’s decisions in December 2017 to shrink the size of Bears Ears by about 85 percent and Grand Staircase Escalante by about half. Trump argued that both southern Utah sites unnecessarily restricted activity from nearby residents.

Obama created Bears Ears and former President Bill Clinton created Grand Staircase Escalante to protect what they saw as important artifacts, ecosystems, Indian cultural sites and other features. They used the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives presidents wide authority to protect land that is already owned by the federal government.

The conservation and Indian groups say the Antiquities Act doesn’t allow Trump or any other president to revoke or shrink an existing monument.

In her order, Chutkan also ordered the Trump administration to notify the litigants two days in advance of any “ground-disturbing” activities in the former monument areas, such as mining or exploration for minerals.

She also asked all of the parties involved to propose a schedule to submit briefs laying out their arguments in the underlying case.

Tags Barack Obama Bears Ears National Monument Bill Clinton Donald Trump Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
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