The move completes a process begun in 2017 when the administration announced the largest rollback of land protection in U,S. history: It shrank Utah's Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and its Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half. Now, the Interior Department is releasing a land-use blueprint that would allow oil, gas and coal companies to lease land for drilling and mining on around 861,974 acres that were once part of Grand Staircase-Escalante, The New York Times reported.
"These plans are atrocious, and entirely predictable," Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Senior Director for Lands Sharon Buccino said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. "They are the latest in a series of insults to these magnificent lands by the Trump administration that began when Trump illegally dismantled Bears Ears and Grand Staircase at the behest of corporate interests two years ago."
@BLMNational https://t.co/6danmQpYnD— NRDC 🌎🏡 (@NRDC 🌎🏡)1581022671.0
Conservation and Native American groups are especially outraged by the administration's action because they are in the midst of suing to block the the shrinking of the monuments in the first place, The Guardian explained. The shrunken monuments include land sacred to Native American tribes and important sites for paleontological research, as well as unique, relatively undisturbed ecosystems. The groups think the courts will rule the administration's actions illegal under the Antiquities Act.
"It's the height of arrogance for Trump to rush through final decisions on what's left of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante while we're fighting his illegal evisceration of these national monuments in court," Center for Biological Diversity Public Lands Director Randi Spivak in a statement reported by The Guardian. "Trump is eroding vital protections for these spectacular landscapes. We won't rest until all of these public lands are safeguarded for future generations."
The administration, meanwhile, presented its actions as a boon to the Utah economy against the overreach of past administrations. Former President Bill Clinton designated Grand Staircase-Escalante as a national monument in 1996, while Barack Obama created the Bears Ears National Monument in 2016.
"The approved plans keep the commitment of this Administration to the families and communities of Utah that know and love this land the best and will care for these resources for many generations to come," Interior's Acting Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond said in the government announcement. "These cooperatively developed and locally driven plans restore a prosperous future to communities too often dismissed and punished by unilateral decisions of those that would not listen to the voices of Utahns."
However, so far the decision has not generated a lot of interest from industry.
"There has been almost no interest in mining and drilling on the lands excluded from Grand Staircase," Interior spokeswoman Kimberly Finch told The New York Times.
The decline of coal also means there has not been much interest expressed in a reserve of the fossil fuel found on the now-unprotected lands, according to The Guardian.
However, if this changes, the decision to shrink the monuments wouldn't just contribute to the climate crisis. It would also make it harder to study it."As a result of its physical isolation and areas of minimal human impact, as well as its enormous ecological diversity, it provides mankind with rare opportunities for unique comparative climate change studies," Grand Staircase Escalante Partners Executive Director Sarah Bauman told The Guardian of the monument.
"Without protections, these opportunities will be lost and with them our ability to build essential knowledge and resources for mitigating climate change."
- Leaked Zinke Memo Urges Trump to Shrink National Monuments ... ›
- New Trump Admin Plan for Bears Ears National Monument ... ›
- Green Groups Sue to Save Atlantic's Only National Monument - EcoWatch ›
A federal judge in San Diego ruled Tuesday that the Trump administration can waive a slew of environmental laws and other regulations to build the president's highly vaunted U.S.-Mexico border wall in California.
Federal laws waived by the Department of Homeland Security for construction of a border wall include the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Antiquities Act and many more.
In his 101-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo said the Department of Homeland Security has broad authority to issue waivers to build border barriers.
"Both Congress and the Executive share responsibilities in protecting the country from terrorists and contraband illegally entering at the borders. Border barriers, roads, and detection equipment help provide a measure of deterrence against illegal entries," Curiel wrote.
The decision from Curiel—the Indiana-born judge that Trump attacked for his Mexican heritage during the presidential campaign—is significant because it could allow the government to proceed with building the controversial wall in other border states.
He noted that the politicized nature of the border wall did not factor into his decision.
"The court is aware that the subject of these lawsuits, border barriers, is currently the subject of heated political debate in and between the United States and the Republic of Mexico as to the need, efficacy and the source of funding for such barriers," Curiel wrote. "In its review of this case, the Court cannot and does not consider whether underlying decisions to construct the border barriers are politically wise or prudent."
The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the litigants, said it would appeal.
"We intend to appeal this disappointing ruling, which would allow Trump to shrug off crucial environmental laws that protect people and wildlife," said Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the organization. "The Trump administration has completely overreached its authority in its rush to build this destructive, senseless wall."
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit last year challenging the Trump administration's use of an expired waiver to build replacement walls south of San Diego. The complaint called the move an unconstitutional delegation of power to the Department of Homeland Security.
A study from the group found that Trump's border wall threatens 93 endangered and threatened species, including jaguars, ocelots, Mexican gray wolves and cactus ferruginous pygmy owls. The study found that 25 threatened or endangered species have designated "critical habitat" on the border, including more than 2 million acres within 50 miles of the border.
Trump's Wall Threatens 93 Endangered Species https://t.co/jJlLAL5oym @IMPL0RABLE @NeverTrumpPAC @American_Bridge— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1495231510.0
The Center for Biological Diversity also argues: "Beyond jeopardizing wildlife, endangered species and public lands, the U.S.-Mexico border wall is part of a larger strategy of ongoing border militarization that damages human rights, civil liberties, native lands, local businesses and international relations. The border wall impedes the natural migrations of people and wildlife that are essential to healthy diversity."
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that his office "will evaluate all of our options and are prepared to do what is necessary to protect our people, our values, and our economy from federal overreach. A medieval wall along the U.S.-Mexico border simply does not belong in the 21st century."
President Trump celebrated the ruling as a "big legal win."
"U.S. judge sided with the Trump Administration and rejected the attempt to stop the government from building a great Border Wall on the Southern Border," he tweeted Tuesday. "Now this important project can go forward!"
Congress, however, has yet to authorize or provide funding for the project. The Senate rejected Trump's $18 billion request to build the wall. The president continues to insist that Mexico will somehow pay for it.
"I have decided that sections of the Wall that California wants built NOW will not be built until the whole Wall is approved," Trump also tweeted early Wednesday, perhaps referring to a new wall project in Calexico.
I have decided that sections of the Wall that California wants built NOW will not be built until the whole Wall is… https://t.co/Vz6U6uS0Za— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1519820996.0
The Justice Department also celebrated the ruling.
"Border security is paramount to stemming the flow of illegal immigration that contributes to rising violent crime and to the drug crisis, and undermines national security," said spokesman Devin O'Malley. “We are pleased DHS can continue this important work vital to our nation's interests."
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Fate of National Monuments Remains Shrouded in Secrecy: Earthjustice Sues Federal Agencies for Withholding Information From Public
For months, the Interior Department, Bureau of Land Management and the White House Council on Environmental Quality have repeatedly failed to answer the public's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for information related to the Trump administration's ongoing review of national monuments—protected federal lands and waters that belong to the American people.
The review of the country's national monuments has been marked by a lack of transparency—Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke has yet to disclose how he incorporated input from Native American tribes and the 2.8 million Americans who urged protections for national monuments in the public comment period into his leaked draft recommendations to shrink monuments and gut their protections. On Thursday, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of six organizations whose requests for information on national monuments have been met with radio silence.
"The Trump administration continues its onslaught against America's national monuments, hoping to cover up its misdeeds by blocking public access to information crucial to the protection of these iconic places," said Yvonne Yuting Chi, an attorney in Earthjustice's Rocky Mountains office. "National monuments preserve America's historical heritage, stunning wilderness, geologic wonders, and priceless cultural sites—and they're meant to be protected for future generations under the Antiquities Act. But the Trump administration wants to pretend that the laws of the land have changed. The American people have the right to know the fate of these magnificent places that belong to all of us, and we are taking these agencies to court to get answers."
"It's important that the public knows who had the White House and Interior Department's ear to push the president to dismantle Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments," said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Salt Lake City-based Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "We also expect this lawsuit will shed light on the information and factors the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Interior Department considered as part of Secretary Zinke's 'monuments review' and that led him to recommend eviscerating Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, a decision that would place irreplaceable cultural and public natural resources at risk of damage and destruction."
Trump to Shrink Utah National Monuments to Allow Drilling, Mining https://t.co/xEHGV1AXZm @EcoWatch— DeSmogBlog (@DeSmogBlog)1509562880.0
Earthjustice is representing the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness in this lawsuit to compel the agencies to respond to seven FOIA requests, most of which have been overdue for months. The complaint alleges that the agencies have failed to meet their response deadlines under the FOIA and have repeatedly rejected or ignored these organizations' inquiries on their requests' status.
"If Interior Secretary Zinke's 'first step' before telling the president to ravage the Bears Ears National Monument was, as he claims, to 'gather the facts,'" said Aaron Paul, a staff attorney with the Grand Canyon Trust, "why are our months-old requests for those already-gathered facts still unanswered when federal law gives the secretary 20 days to respond? It's a shame that we have to turn to the courts to force the secretary to deliver the transparency that the Freedom of Information Act secures for the American public."
"The public deserves to know what Secretary Zinke is recommending for the future of our public lands," said Dan Ritzman, lands, water and wildlife director for Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "The Trump administration's secrecy suggests Zinke is aware that stripping protections from our public lands and monuments is as unpopular as raising fees for the public to enjoy them."
Since 1967, the FOIA has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is a law that keeps the American people in the know about their government. When a member of the public lodges a request with a federal agency under the FOIA, the agency must promptly disclose any information requested unless the information falls under one of the nine exemptions protecting interests such as personal privacy, national security and law enforcement.
"We are dismayed that it takes litigating FOIA requests to learn the fate of public lands that belong to all Americans," said Caroline Munger, Board Chair for Great Old Broads for Wilderness. "This cloak and dagger approach by the current administration on revealing the fate of these national monuments shows a disdain for the law and the legacy of our protected wild lands. Monument proponents like Broads, tribal nations, and others have committed to a long legal battle, if necessary, to protect the Antiquities Act and monuments created under it."
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) confirmed in a Friday statement that Trump called the senator to inform him of the Bears Ears decision and that he will also shrink Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is thought to contain more than 60 billion tons of coal.
Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monumentharryhayashi / istockphoto.com
Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke recommended downsizing Bears Ears in June, saying that the Antiquities Act should be used to protect the "smallest area" needed to cover important sites. The president will travel to Utah to announce plans to trim the monuments in December.
"It is a disgrace that the President wants to undo the nation's first national monument created to honor Native American cultural heritage. And a travesty that he's trying to unravel a century's worth of conservation history–all behind closed doors," said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement referring to Bears Ears.
"The American people want these special places protected. We will fight any illegal attempt by this administration to turn our national treasures over to private interests for polluters' profits."
As reported by the Salt Lake Tribune:
" ... Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, called the move an 'ugly violation of stewardship responsibility' that will undermine Utah's fastest growing industry: tourism.
'Trump, with the conniving help of the Utah congressional delegation, just strangled the golden goose of Utah's future jobs—the outdoor recreation industry,' Dabakis said. 'The winners in the president's decision are the fossil fuels industry, giant international coal companies and the pollution industry. The losers are Utah families, outdoor enthusiasts, hunters, campers, climbers and all who appreciate the unspeakable beauty of our state.'"
For a deeper dive:
Rep. Rob Bishop is moving legislation that would radically cut down the scope of the Antiquities Act, effectively blocking new protections of national monument lands.
Bishop's bill—in an Orwellian flourish, titled the "National Monument Creation and Protection Act"—would bar the Antiquities Act from being used to protect landmarks, prehistoric structures and objects of "scientific interest," switching the law's scope to the vague term "object or objects of antiquity."
Court rulings and more than a century of presidential practice have established that the Antiquities Act is broad and can protect large natural landscapes. Reducing its scope to the narrow yet vague and infinitely litigable terms Bishop proposes would fulfill a longstanding goal of the anti-public lands fringe and severely undermine the law.
Among other things, Bishop is infamous for remarking about Native American rock art at Nevada's Basin and Range National Monument, "Ah, bullcrap. That's not an antiquity." It's not hard to see the potential damage done by reshaping a bedrock conservation law in this man's image. If thousand-year-old art—not to mention the Grand Canyon itself, whose onetime monument status led to a legal ruling that the Antiquities Act could be applied to large natural landscapes—isn't an "antiquity," then what would he deem worth saving?
Based on past remarks, Rep. Rob Bishop might not consider the rock art at Basin and Range National Monument (Nevada) a worthy criterion for Antiquities Act protection.Bob Wick / Bureau of Land Management
Bishop's bill would also outlaw monuments beyond a certain acreage, allow future presidents to slash existing monuments down to a fraction of their size, and completely end the practice of setting aside marine habitat under monument status.
"On the heels of [Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke's secret report to illegally roll back national monument protections across the country, [House Natural Resources Committee] Chairman Bishop has one-upped him by trying once again to gut the law that protected these treasures in the first place," said Dan Hartinger, deputy director for parks & public lands defense at The Wilderness Society. "It seems as though they're in some perverse contest to see who can author the most radical proposal to sell out our public lands to development."
Antiquities Act Has Been a Long-Running, Bipartisan Success
Signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Antiquities Act authorizes presidents to protect important archaeological, historic and scientific resources on public lands under the designation "national monument." It has been used on a bipartisan basis by almost every president, a method supported by some 90 percent of voters that forms the backbone of our National Park System.
Despite its popularity and proven track record, in the spring of 2017, President Trump signed an executive order launching a "review" of every large national monument established under the Antiquities Act since the beginning of 1996. It was a move transparently spurred by extreme members of Congress trying to shrink boundaries and reduce protections in their respective states.
In September, media outlets reported that Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's recommendations based on that review featured changes to 10 national monument lands, including shrinking Utah's Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada's Gold Butte and Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou.
Bishop's law is the natural next step, a killing blow aimed at the very foundation of the American public lands tradition. The goal is to not only roll back what has been protected in the past, but to prevent any and all protections in the future.
We don't know precisely what path this bill will take, but should it come to a full House vote, we will call on Wilderness Society supporters to mobilize and let their members of Congress know Bishop's proposal is totally unacceptable.
"We are prepared to challenge immediately whatever official action is taken to modify the monument or restructure any aspect of that, such as the Bears Ears Commission," Ethel Branch, Navajo Nation attorney general, told Reuters.
The tribe believes that the reduction of Bears Ears' boundaries violates the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law designed to protect archeological sites from looting and vandalism and allows presidents to designate the lands as national monuments without going through Congress.
In December, President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate 1.35 million acres of land as the Bears Ears National Monument, which contains 100,000 significant Native American sites.
In Zinke's leaked memo to President Trump, the secretary advised changes to at least 10 national monuments, including shrinking Bears Ears.
According to records obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah lawmakers have submitted maps and documents to the Interior Department to drastically reduce Bears Ears' size by 90 percent, or down to only 120,000 acres.
As Climate Nexus reported, while the land in Bears Ears is not thought to contain significant oil or gas deposits, mining and fossil fuel interests cheered Zinke's recommendation as a preview of how the Trump administration may handle scaling back protections for more oil and gas-rich federally protected land.
Our people fought for #BearsEars...We cannot condone a reduction to the monument Navajo President Begay #HonorTribes https://t.co/rzwv1uazpG— Utah Diné Bikéyah (@Utah Diné Bikéyah)1505845349.0
Trump Signs Executive Order Targeting National Monuments, Could Open Up Lands for Oil and Gas Development
The review enables the Department of Interior to examine whether any of the monument designations have led to a "loss of jobs, reduced wages and reduced public access."
"The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water," President Donald Trump said during a brief ceremony today flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Sec. of the Interior Ryan Zinke. He added that it was "time to end this abusive practice."
The 1.35-million acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is one of the first targets for review. The monument was created by President Obama last year and has sparked major controversy between Republican lawmakers and conservationists. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah's congressional delegation led by Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz and Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee have launched a campaign to abolish national monument. More than 270 million acres of American land and waters are potentially at risk—an area two and a half times the size of California.
GOP lawmakers have accused President Obama, who designated more monuments than any other president, of abusing the Antiquities Act to protect land from fossil fuel development.
"By potentially rolling back safeguards for lands and waters that are currently protected from destructive development for generations to come, Trump is carving up this beautiful country into as many corporate giveaways for the oil and gas industry as possible," said Diana Best of Greenpeace USA. "People in this country who cannot afford the membership fee at Mar-a-Lago want safe water they can drink and public lands for their communities to enjoy."
National monument designations have protected some of the most iconic places in the country. Dozens of the nation's most treasured national parks were first protected as monuments, including Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Acadia and Olympic national parks, explained the Center for Biological Diversity.
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, emphasized that the NRDC will fight the review, and said the president is not authorized to reverse monument designations.
"These public lands belong to all of us," she said. "The U.S. holds them in trust for the benefit of this and future generations. These monuments have been deemed worthy of permanent conservation because of their unique resources and wildlife, ecological importance, and vulnerability to encroachment and destruction. President Trump and Secretary Zinke should not strip away their protection and subject them to industrial exploitation by polluters or other corporate interests."
The Center for Biological Diversity noted that more than 50 national monuments are at risk, including vast marine areas in the Pacific and Caribbean. Congress gave the president the authority to designate national monuments on federally owned land under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which was signed into law by President Teddy Roosevelt, for the express purpose of protecting important objects of historic and scientific importance.
"This is a frightening step toward dismantling the protection of some of America's most important and iconic places: our national parks and monuments," said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Trump's tapping into the right-wing, anti-public-lands zealotry that will take us down a very dangerous path—a place where Americans no longer have control over public lands and corporations are left to mine, frack, clear-cut and bulldoze them into oblivion. It starts with Bears Ears and Grand Staircase and only gets worse from there."
National monuments are cherished by Americans for their natural beauty and cultural significance.
"There is no need for a review to demonstrate what families across the country already know first-hand—national monuments provide tangible health, natural, and economic benefits," said Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director. "Protected outdoor spaces drive the outdoor recreation economy which supports 7.6 million jobs and generates $887 billion in consumer spending each year. National monuments and public lands are vital both for the history they preserve and the future they offer.
"Contrary to the Trump administration's thinly veiled hopes," he added, "this review will reveal what studies, surveys and polls have consistently found across the country—a deep, widespread appreciation for our parks, monuments and other public lands, and a popular belief that they should continue to exist."
As thousands of people across the country and in Washington, DC are expected to join the People's Climate March on Saturday, indigenous leaders and climate activists will, as 350.org Executive Director May Boeve points out, "now have to defend our parks and monuments from Big Oil as well."
Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, put it this way. "This is another Trump action that is another act of aggression against the inherent sovereign rights of our Native Nations to protect the traditional cultural areas and sacred places of American Indian and Alaska Native people," he said.
"There are many areas in this country, outside of our reserved lands that are of vital importance to our Indigenous peoples' identity and rich cultural and spiritual history. The 1906 Antiquities Act cannot be stripped on its important historical mandates to designate national monuments to protect areas that have cultural, historical and environmental significance. The act is paramount to all the tribes in this country; for our cultural preservation now and into the future. The frontline Indigenous communities in our network see Trump's actions as a way to open up fossil fuel and extractive mineral development within these national monuments designated under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Trump's action must be stopped."
Companies are also outraged at Trump's latest executive order. "Less than 24 hours after joining with our industry to celebrate the economic power of outdoor recreation, in a hypocritical move, the Trump administration took unprecedented steps that could result in the removal of protections for treasured public lands," Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said.
"We take this as a sign that Trump and his team prefer to cater to fossil fuel interests and state land grabs for unsustainable development, rather than preserve a vital part of our nation's heritage for future generations by protecting federal lands owned by every citizen."
By Jason Mark
If you've ever stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon and marveled at the awesome view of the gorge—unmarred by mines or machines—you have the Antiquities Act to thank. If you've ever walked the banks of Wyoming's Snake River and taken in the sight of the stone towers at Grand Teton National Park, you also owe a debt of gratitude to the Antiquities Act. The same is true of California's Death Valley and Mt. Lassen National Parks, as well as Katmai and Glacier Bay National Parks in Alaska, Washington State's Olympic National Park and Arches and Zion National Parks in Utah. In all of these cases, the first step toward establishing a national park was for a president to first designate a national monument under the Antiquities Act.
But this landmark conservation law is now in jeopardy. Some Congressional Republicans—along with Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump's pick for Interior Secretary—are threatening to repeal or downsize some of the national monuments that President Obama established toward the end of his term. Such a move would be unprecedented: No president has ever sought to reverse a predecessor's monument designations. And the noises about somehow revoking a national monument are likely just prelude to an eventual attempt by Congressional Republicans to rewrite the law in its entirety to prevent future presidential monuments.
Big Oil Cheers as Trump Plans to Open National Parks for Drilling https://t.co/25OEh4PTFx @HuffPostGreen @greenpeaceusa— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484269516.0
Before I go any further, some history might be useful. The Antiquities Act—it just sounds old, right? And, in a way, it is: 111 years old this year, to be exact, having been passed by Congress and signed into law by President Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, in 1906. In this case, however, old doesn't mean outdated. Instead, it means tested and proven.
The Antiquities Act was created as a response to an epidemic of looting and grave-robbing that swept the American West at the turn of the last century. Congress gave the president powers for "the protection of objects of historic and scientific interest." In some cases, presidents have used that power to preserve landscapes containing archaeological treasures. Good examples include national monuments such as Walnut Canyon and Wuptaki in Arizona, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal that runs through Maryland and Hovenweep along the Utah-Colorado border. Sometimes, presidents have leveraged the law to protect outstanding natural features like the Petrified Forest or Craters of the Moon in Idaho. In many cases, the protection of archaeological and natural wonders overlap. See: Grand Canyon, the California Channel Islands or the Bering Land Bridge in Alaska.
The U.S.' first national monument, Devil's Tower in Wyoming, is a classic example of how cultural and physical treasures are often one and the same. For the Lakota and Cheyenne peoples, the dramatic eruption of stone at the edge of the Great Plains was a sacred place. They called the site "Bear's Lodge" and the rock monolith was crucial to their star-knowledge—their way of tracking the seasons. White pioneers, too, were naturally impressed by the sight and when loggers and miners threatened the area, President Roosevelt moved to protect it. The fact that indigenous societies and white settlers alike apprehended a numinous power in the place seems, to me at least, to represent the best of America's conservation traditions. What a wonderful example of how awe crosses cultures.
The brand-new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah clearly follows in the tradition of Devil's Tower. Designated by President Obama right after Christmas, the preserve covers 1.35 million acres of high desert flora and dramatic rock outcroppings, as well as thousands of sites containing relics of pre-Columbian societies—sites that in recent years have suffered from a rash of looting and vandalism. Given the intention of protecting archaeological sites, Bears Ears would seem to be a law school textbook example of how the Antiquities Act should work.
Obama Designates Two New National Monuments, Protecting 1.65 Million Acres https://t.co/cWSbJpoxsO @interior @NPCA— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1483060507.0
Utah's Congressional delegation sees it differently. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, says Obama's move represented an "egregious" disregard for the people of Utah. He and other Utah elected officials are pushing for President Trump to revoke the new monument. "If it was created by a pen, it can be dismissed by the pen," Chaffetz told fellow Republicans at a party meeting in Philadelphia.
During his confirmation hearings to become Interior Secretary, Rep. Zinke promised Utah Sen. Mike Lee that, if confirmed, he would travel to southern Utah to investigate the new monument for himself. "It will certainly be interesting to see whether the president has the authority to nullify a monument," Zinke said.
Chaffetz's confidence and Zinke's curiosity are misplaced. Many scholars agree that while the act clearly gives the president the power to establish a monument, there is no procedure for a president to abolish one, since his predecessor's designation would have the force of law (see here and here). A November 2016 report drafted by the Congressional Research Service—Congress' non-partisan policy research arm—cited a 1938 memo from the U.S. Attorney General's office to conclude that the Antiquities Act "does not authorize the President to repeal proclamations and that the President also lacks implied authority to do so."
Christine A. Klein, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law who has also written about the act, helped walk me through the legalities. "This stuff you see in the news about presidents acting unilaterally or beyond his authority [in designating monuments] is simply not true," she told me. "There have been only a handful of lawsuits challenging monuments designated by the president and in every case the presidential actions were upheld—and that included two cases before the Supreme Court."
The Antiquities Act, Klein explained, is a delegation of authority from Congress to the president. Accordingly, only a vote of Congress—not a simple swipe of the presidential pen—can revoke a monument.
Which is exactly what Rep. Chaffetz and allies have as a Plan B in case Zinke's "interesting" experiment doesn't go as planned. A close examination of Chaffetz's complaints about Bears Ears shows them to be pretty weak—and points to the larger agenda behind his campaign of small arms fire directed at the Antiquities Act.
Bears Ears opponents complain about the size of the monument, "one of the biggest land grabs in the history of the United States," as Chaffetz likes to say. The law is clear, however, that the size of a monument is a function of its preservation goals: If the idea is to preserve thousands of antiquities spread across a couple thousand square miles, you're going to need to protect a million-plus acres to get the job done. When Teddy Roosevelt set aside 800,000 acres to protect the Grand Canyon, mining interests complained as well—and then lost their case before the Supreme court.
Bears Ears opponents also claim that this was an undemocratic process. "There is not a single … elected official that represents that area that's in favor of it," Chaffetz has said. Note the lawyerly wording there—"elected officials." What about the people who live in the region? When former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and other federal officials traveled to southern Utah last summer for a hearing on the proposed monument, proponents—led by a historic coalition of Native American tribes—outnumbered opponents by three-to-one. According to a statewide poll take in the spring of 2016, 71 percent of Utahans supported the Bears Ears proposal.
The technical and procedural complaints disguise a larger ideological dislike of the Antiquities Act: Congressional Republicans hate the law, full stop. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the National Resources committee, has called the law "the most evil act ever invented" and has said that anyone who likes the Antiquities Act as written should "die" because he "needs stupidity out of the gene pool." Bishop, Chaffetz and others are angered by what they believe is federal overreach. Local communities, they argue, should decide how those lands are managed. I agree that local consultation is important—which is why those federal officials held the public hearings in the first place. But make no mistake: These are public lands and they belong equally to all citizens, everywhere.
Bishop and Chaffetz's ultimate goal isn't just to reverse the single national monument of Bears Ears, but to roll back the Antiquities Act altogether. Bishop has repeatedly introduced legislation to change the law. The congressman refers to his legislation as reform—but in this case, "reform" is synonymous with "weaken" and "render meaningless."
If you care about conservation and think the president should have the ability to protect lands when Congress fails to act, what is to be done? In the near term, as Trump and Zinke mull an attempt to revoke a monument by executive order, the fight is probably in the hands of lawyers. But eventually this issue will go to the floor of Congress. And when it does, the fate of this keystone environmental law will rest in your hands.
For more than a century, the Antiquities Act has protected some of America's most outstanding landscapes. If Congressional Republicans make good on their threats, it will be up to us to protect the Antiquities Act.
For more than a century, presidents have been using the Antiquities Act to save our national treasures, and President Obama's just-announced designation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico shows exactly why this law is so indispensable.
Organ Mountains, moonrise.Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument
At nearly 500,000 acres (making it by far the largest monument that President Obama has designated), Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is packed with history, from archaeological sites to Billy the Kid's Outlaw Rock, to training areas for the Apollo space missions. The canyons and jagged peaks of the region's mountain ranges are both beautiful and unique.
My family and I experienced that beauty firsthand last November when we hiked the Dripping Springs Trail together with many of the folks who've been working for years to gain this protection.
It's estimated that the new monument will attract enough new outdoor recreation and tourism to give a $7.4 million boost to the local economy. No wonder the designation received strong local support across the board—from business owners to elected officials to residents.
As Howard Dash, a member of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Action Team of the Rio Grande Chapter's Southern Group, told me: "In Las Cruces, our team has worked hard for the designation of the national monument. It was through the Sierra Club's support that we were able to focus that effort to make it a reality. Las Cruces will be a better place for it."
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is the eleventh national monument designated by President Obama under the Antiquities Act and, in every instance, his administration has bent over backward to get input from nearby communities and to select places that are rich in both cultural and natural heritage. In other words, the Antiquities Act is being used exactly as intended.
That fact, however, didn't keep the current U.S. House of Representatives (already notorious for being the most anti-conservation in decades) from attempting to snatch failure from the jaws of success. Earlier this year, in a close vote, the House passed a bill that would gut the Antiquities Act.
Obviously, anyone who loves wild places and wants to see them protected, knows that's a terrible idea. Many excellent candidates for national monument protection, such as Idaho's Boulder-White Clouds, Arizona's Grand Canyon Watershed, and Utah's Greater Canyonlands, are still waiting. But the repercussions of losing the Antiquities Act would reverberate beyond the loss of new monuments. Remember when our national parks were closed because of the federal government shutdown? Fourteen of those national parks were reopened with funding from state governments because the states couldn't afford to lose the substantial revenue the parks generated for nearby communities. Of those 14 parks, nine were first protected as national monuments—thanks to the Antiquities Act.
Without the Antiquities Act, it's impossible to say exactly how much poorer our national heritage would be, but there's no question it would be poorer, not just for us, but for every generation that follows. President Obama deserves a lot of credit for using the authority granted to him by the Antiquities Act to protect special places like Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, and for using it exactly the way it is supposed to be used.
Of course, anytime that Congress decides to use its own considerable authority to protect public lands, I'll be the first to stand and applaud. In the past five years, though, that's happened exactly once, which puts the tally at Obama 11, Congress 1. During this 50th anniversary year of the Wilderness Act, wouldn't it be nice to see a closer score?