In a strong rebuke of former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, President Trump announced Monday his decision to shrink two major national monuments in Utah, becoming the first president to use the Antiquities Act to reduce the size of national monuments established by his predecessors and opening the previously protected public lands to oil drilling, mining and grazing.
The move opens Trump to near-certain lawsuits from Indian tribes and environmental groups, which according to them is the largest-ever rollback of protected areas in U.S. history.
Trump signed proclamations reducing Obama’s 1.4-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument by 84 percent to 220,000 acres and Clinton’s 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half to 1 million acres.
“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They’re wrong,” Trump said.
“The families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best and you know the best how to take care of your land.”
The decision to shrink the monuments stemmed from an Interior Department review of 27 large national monuments ordered by President Trump.
“Past administrations have severely abused the purpose, spirit and intent of a century-old law known as the Antiquities Act. This law requires that only the smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments,” Trump said.
“Unfortunately, previous administrations have ignored the standards and used the law to lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water under strict government control.”
Trump has the full support of industries that want to use the land, e.g. the agriculture industry.
“We are grateful that today’s action will allow ranchers to resume their role as responsible stewards of the land and drivers of rural economies,” Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in a statement.
“Previous administrations abused the power of the Antiquities Act, designating huge swaths of land as national monuments without any public input or review.”
However, Trump is facing immediate criticism and strong backlash from environmentalists and American Indian tribes who see it as an attack on cultural treasures, public lands and conservation efforts.
“This is nothing more than political score settling from an administration that doesn’t seem to comprehend the extraordinary value these lands hold for Native American communities and all Americans,” Brian Sybert, executive director of Conservation Lands Foundation, said in a statement.
“Make no mistake: the near elimination of these national treasures is beyond belief. These lands belong to the people, not corporate polluters.”
“The president does not have the legal authority to issue an order to shrink national monuments, nor does he have the authority to open these stunning, protected landscapes up to dirty coal mining and oil drilling,” said Heidi McIntosh, Rocky Mountains attorney for Earthjustice. “This isn’t a ‘land grab’ — it’s more like a land giveaway to the fossil fuel industry.”
After Congress failed to act, Obama created Bears Ears in December 2016 to “protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes.”
In 1996, Clinton created Grand Staircase, the largest land national monument in the country.
Clinton’s Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt said the roll-backs make Trump a “vandal in our midst, coming in person to lay waste to the land.”