Above: Drill, Baby, Drill!
In the midst of Trump’s word diarrhea yesterday around everything from NAFTA (I feel like I should write about this but of course Trump doesn’t even understand what NAFTA is) to the 9th Circuit, he dropped something that is genuinely pretty concerning, and that’s potentially getting rid of the recent national monuments in the West created not only by Obama but also by Clinton.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president of the United States the power to designate lands and waters for permanent protection. Almost every president since Teddy Roosevelt has used the Act to place extraordinary archaeological, historic and natural sites under protection and out of reach of commercial exploitation.
Many sites originally designated as national monuments were later upgraded by Congress to become national parks, including Bryce Canyon, Saguaro and Death Valley. In many cases in the past, the Antiquities Act allowed presidents to protect vital natural and cultural resources when congressional leaders, often compromised by their ties to special interests representing coal, oil, timber and mining industries, were reluctant or unwilling to act.
A new Executive Order signed by President Trump on April 26th, 2017 puts this important regulatory tool for conservation and historic preservation at risk. The clear intention of the Executive Order is to lay the groundwork for shrinking national monuments or rescinding their designation entirely, in order to open currently protected public lands for untrammeled growth in coal, oil and minerals extraction.
The Executive Order requires the Secretary of the Interior to review all presidential designations since 1996 of national monuments over 100,000 acres in size. However, in the short-term it appears particularly aimed at reversing designations or reducing the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments, which together comprise 3.23 million acres in Utah.
Remarkably, in its own press statement, the Department of the Interior (the federal agency responsible for managing and protecting our public lands) tips its hand and signals that it has no intention of undertaking a fair and independent review by describing Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears as the “bookends of modern Antiquities Act overreach”.
An attack on the Antiquities Act is an attack on all monuments and has huge implications for future presidents’ ability to protect important sites in the future.
Now, like all of Trump’s executive orders, which seems to be his preferred method of governing as he can sign something and then hold it up for the cameras, it’s really unclear what this means. It’s not clear if he has the authority to repeal or reduce national monuments unilaterally. But the Antiquities Act does allow the president to create national monuments unilaterally, so long as the land is federally owned. I am sure that there will lawsuits over a president’s ability to reduce monuments and I don’t know what will happen. But this is extremely alarming for those of us who care about western public lands.
Also, this is one of the issues that would have happened more or less the same way with any Republican. Bundyism is a central tenet of western Republicanism today. Trump might as well have named Cliven Bundy as Secretary of the Interior instead of Ryan Zinke, plus it would have saved me the indignity of having a former Oregon football player in the position.