Trump to order review of national monuments – Politico


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The Upper Gulch section of the Escalante Canyons within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument shown in an undated photo. | AP Photo

04/25/17 09:19 PM EDT

Updated 04/25/17 10:36 PM EDT


President Donald Trump is set to order the review of tens of millions of acres of land and water set aside as national monuments by the past three presidents on Wednesday, a move that environmental groups warn will undermine a crucial conservation tool and open up sensitive areas to fossil fuel development.

The review will be conducted by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and will encompass the dozens of monuments created over the past 21 years, although the main focus will be on President Barack Obama’s designation last year of Bears Ears National monument, as well as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument protected by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Both of those are in Utah, and the state’s lawmakers have pressed to revoke the monument status for the two sites, which are believed to hold fossil fuel resources.

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But Zinke sought to quell concerns that the executive order would roll back conservation protections provided by 1906 Antiquities Act, saying the Trump’s order “does not strip any monument … or loosen any environmental conservation on any land or marine areas.”

Yet environmental groups fear the review is a simply a pretense to unwind the federal protections in the future, since both Trump and Zinke have supported growing U.S. fossil fuel output.

The Antiquities Act is “one of our country’s kind of bedrock conservation laws,” said Daniel Ritzman, Sierra Club western public lands protection campaign director.

Sixteen different presidents have used the law “to protect some of our country’s most special places. You know places like the Grand Canyon [National Park] started out out as a national monument,” he said. “And it’s not just our important landscapes that have been protected, it’s also used to protect some unique American cultural sites, especially Native American cultural sites.”

Presidents have also used the law to block off areas from fossil-fuel development, such as coal mining at Grand Staircase, but environmental and conservation groups worry those protections will be tossed aside as Trump looks for additional ways to unleash energy development on public lands and waters.

“This administration has made it clear that they’re going to do the bidding of the oil and gas industry,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a Colorado-based conservation group.

The order gives Zinke 45 days to file an interim recommendations, and 120 days to issue suggestions for legislation or for Trump to revoke or slim down the size of any monuments that cover 100,000 acres or more that were created under the Antiquities Act.

The order does not make any assertions as to the scope of Trump’s authority to revoke monuments, Zinke said and he reiterated his belief that presidents can revise the scope of monument designations, though that the broader authority to delist monuments remains untested in courts.

While presidents have tweaked the size of their predecessor’s monument designations — President Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example, reduced Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Monument by 25 percent — none have fully revoked the status for existing monuments entirely. Environmental groups and tribal officials say they stand ready to sue over any attempts by Trump to change the footprint or eliminate existing monuments.

Obama used the power under the Antiquities Act to to protect more land than any previous president, from underwater canyons and mountains off Cape Cod to the vast Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Pacific Ocean. His aggressive use of the Act drew scathing criticism from Republicans, who complained the White House abused the law to override local opposition and restrict development and usage of the lands.

Groups have already challenged two of Obama’s monument designations, including a lawsuit by fisheries groups over the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument off the East Coast, but neither of the cases address the scope of a president’s authority to revoke a monument.

Meanwhile, the energy industry has been lobbying for access to more public lands — as well revisions to ease the environmental reviews and other permitting processes. The American Petroleum Institute in a January letter to lawmakers urged Congress to revamp the Antiquities Act, arguing the increasing use of the law presents “threats to responsible and balanced use of federal lands offshore and onshore.”

“There’s absolutely interest in developing oil and natural gas resources on public lands,” said Erik Milito, API’s director of upstream and industry operations.

“There’s highly prospective areas for the industry and we’ve seen considerable development on state and private lands in the vicinity of public lands, which would demonstrate that there could be far greater opportunities if we had a more streamlined process and more opportunities by eliminating these types of obstacles to development.”

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