In his latest assault on protections for federal lands, president Donald Trump has just signed an executive order that calls for the elimination of all national monuments created in the past 20 years that are at least 100,000 acres in size.
Trump’s order authorizes Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to determine whether more than two dozen national monuments created since 1996 should remain federally protected or whether they should be stripped of their status and reopened for oil and gas drilling, Vox reported Wednesday.
Zinke told reporters in a White House press conference Tuesday evening that such a review was “long overdue,” and that in recent years, national monuments had ballooned in size and were now jeopardizing economic growth, particularly in western states like Utah and California.
“By and large, the Antiquities Act and the monuments that we’ve protected have done a great service to the public,” Zinke told reporters, but went on to say, “Those out in the West would probably need to go.”
Zinke did not say which other national monuments the administration was specifically targeting, but did promise to decide on the status of Bears Ears in the next 45 days. As for the other national monuments under review, he said he will issue a final report in the next 120 days.
Bears Ears Monument, which President Obama designated as a 1.35 million-acre national monument in Utah and President Trump is now seeking to dismantle. Also under attack in Utah is the 1.7 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante, which President Clinton created in 1996.
Why national monuments law was passed so presidents could act quickly to protect some of America’s most pristine lands from development (namely, mining and drilling for oil and gas), but Republican lawmakers have criticized its use in recent years, arguing that the executive branch is overstepping its powers.
At the heart of the dispute is that national monument designations bar oil and gas companies from drilling in national parks.
according to the report, House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) has said he welcomes the executive order and will push legislation in the House to both rescind Bears Ears’ federally protected status and dismantle the Antiquities Act.
But what Bishop is proposing — overturning Bears Ears’ federally protected status — has no precedent.
Republicans like Bishop are arguing that the Antiquities Act could be used to completely do away with national monuments instead of just creating them. But no president has ever attempted this, which Secretary Zinke admitted during last night’s White House press briefing.
“It is untested … whether the president can do that,” he said of abolishing a national monument.
There are roughly 30 national monuments at risk of losing their federally protected status, and we can now anticipate a renewed fight between America’s responsibility to protect federal lands and the administration’s draconian pro-energy agenda.