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Another Great Moment from Yesterday

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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.

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  • Nick Conway

    It’s also a not-so-subtle “Screw You” to the coalition of Tribes that pushed for the Bears Ears National Monument and were able to get some joint management control over it. It’s their cultural heritage that is being looted and destroyed by ATV’s, drilling, etc. Trump admin will probably try and put pressure on the BLM to allow fracking near the great ruins of Chaco Canyon as well:
    http://www.santafenewmexican.com/pasatiempo/art/frack-and-ruin-archaeologists-fear-drilling-could-obliterate-chaco-connections/article_e8d22fee-ef6c-5fc5-aeee-70ccbadeddac.html

    It is interesting to note that the Republicans seem to be heading in a different direction away from transferring public lands to private holders. Chaffetz’ bill to transfer public lands into private holdings died after hunters and environmental groups came out against it, and it seems like that Republican dream will remain dead for the foreseeable future. But if Republicans can rescind national monuments, weaken environmental laws, etc, then corporations can do all the resource extraction and destruction on public lands that they want and it basically accomplishes the same goals as privatization, without the same level of backlash.

    • TroubleMaker13

      It is interesting to note that the Republicans seem to be heading in a different direction away from transferring public lands to private holders.

      They don’t want to buy the land. They just want to lease the mineral and resource rights for pennies on the dollar and leave the federal govt holding the bag for the environmental disaster that they’ll leave behind.

      • NeonTrotsky

        Hell grazing fees are set at like 1/5 the market rate or something, the Bundy’s were basically complaining about government overreach while receiving massive handouts from the government.

  • DrDick
    • NonyNony

      Unless he can find 5 votes on the SCOTUS saying that he does.

      Since this is an action that would only serve conservative interests and doesn’t look like it would enable a liberal president in any way, I will not be at all shocked to discover that somehow no matter what the Constitution says the President actually does have that power if he chooses to exercise it.

    • rea

      Unfortunately, there is a precedent going the other way–in 1915, Woodrow Wilson shrunk Mt. Olympus National Monument (now Olympic National Park)

      • Good point. That park has been expanded and shrunk many times.

  • dogboy

    The LA Times has a nice photo gallery of the sites being reviewed.

    As it’s always projection with these people, they seem to think that the Feds just woke up one day and decided to seize a bunch of land. From what I’ve seen there’s a long period of negotiation (~10 years) before the President pulls the trigger. And if I’m not mistaken, these lands belong to the people already.

    • NeonTrotsky

      Virtually all federal land was land that wasn’t homesteaded, and so remained with the federal government. There are some exceptions to this, acquisitions from landswaps and probably some outright acquisitions that I am unaware of, but nobody really has any kind of legitimate claim to the vast majority of this land except native americans.

      • dogboy

        Right, which just makes the common refrain of ‘this is a federal land grab!’ seem especially peculiar. We’re talking about land already owned by the federal govt.

        • joel hanes

          We’re talking about land already owned by the federal govt.

          Land that for almost a century, the Federal Government actively sought to give away to whoever would claim it under the mild conditions of the Homestead, Timber and Stone, and Mining Acts, among others.

          • TroubleMaker13

            Well over a century. Disposal was technically an official element of public land policy until the passage of FLPMA in 1976.

        • boredtotears

          The issue isn’t really about ownership, as noted above. The issue is primarily about legal designation, which determines the management agency and subsequent management policies and usage rights–who gets to the use the land and resources, how, and for what purposes. Monuments are very similar to national parks in terms of mgmt and usage; national park service manages them. Whereas federal land managed by the BLM or Forest Service is managed according to quite different mandates and generally allow for much wider usage rights and types.

          There’s certainly a contingent of rightwing Western legislators, industry and advocacy types who would love to take federal holdings in the West, but again, as noted above, that recent push fell flat. I’d even dare to say a majority of typically conservative Western voters don’t agree with such a notion or are at least skeptical any good can come from putting federal lands up for private ownership bidding.

          In any case, the fight is and will be (and has been for a very long time) over access, usage, and management decision-making and control. This move by Trump is just a new tactic in a historical and long-running debate over control and usage of federal Western lands. We’ll see where it goes (personally, I don’t think it gets very far, but that remains to be seen).

  • Rob in CT

    Also, too: the launch of Der Sturmer VOICE.

    • efgoldman

      Also, too: the launch of Der Sturmer VOICE.

      Seems to me the right ::ahem:: thing to do is call the number and leave a message that an orange alien has taken over and clouded the minds of some 60 million+ god-fearin’ white Americans.

      • The Great God Pan

        Apparently the hotline has indeed been flooded with calls about space aliens.

        “There are certainly more constructive ways to make one’s opinions heard than to prevent legitimate victims of crime from receiving the information and resources they seek because the lines are tied up by hoax callers,” an ICE spokesperson said about the hotline … getting trolled.

        hee hee hee

  • Dilan Esper

    Not sure Erik is right that any Republican does this. W didn’t try to do it.

    • Nepos

      I’m pretty sure Erik meant any Republican President in 2016. In 2000 the Republican party hadn’t yet gone from ordinary villainy to cartoonish super-villainy.

  • Michael Cain

    This week the House Energy and Commerce Committee held hearings on a draft bill to restart the work on the Yucca Mountain spent nuclear fuel repository. There’s no one from Nevada on the committee; the initial witness list included no one from Nevada (after protests, a second session with Nevada representatives was added); they’re clearly gearing up to do “Screw Nevada 2”.

    Part of that will have to be rolling back the Basin and Range National Monument Obama created. The monument sits across the only reasonable route for a new rail spur necessary to deliver the spent fuel casks without going through Las Vegas proper.

    I note that Republicans from Nebraska became much less enthusiastic about Yucca Mountain once they realized that the DOE plan called for offloading 300 barge loads of casks per year at Omaha.

    • Schadenfreude that Yucca Mountain is now on Rick Perry’s desk. Capable and energetic men have spent their working lives getting nowhere on this. What chance does Perry have?

  • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

    The histories of many (most?) national parks and monuments is that the locals (basically the conservatives in the area) vociferously opposed their creation by the “evil” federal government.

    Within a fairly short time the locals did a 180 as the designations brought in a lot of tourism dollars and other investments, far offsetting whatever piddly economic benefits they were getting from the land previously.

    You’d think that eventually this common pattern would become known and people would stop howling the moment an area got a federal designation, or at least tamp it down a bit. But that would require conservatives who can learn, not a common skill in this group.

    • Michael Cain

      Colorado College does an annual survey of most of the Mountain West states on various subjects related to this. With the exception of the most rural of the states, the lesson has been learned. There are rumors that Chaffetz pulled his bill about transferring a bunch of federal land to the states because he got an early look at how Utah polled on expanding drilling and mining.

      • Chaffetz is a living example of the rational, amoral politician of public choice textbooks.

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