Today, the Trump administration officially released a new Resource Management Plan for Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area, looking to open hundreds of thousands of acres of previously protected public lands to industrial extractive resource development. The management plan comes while pending lawsuits to determine the legality of Trump’s unilateral decision to reduce two Utah national monuments continue to work through the court system.
“Trump already broke the law when he illegally reduced two national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act. And while that decision faces multiple challenges in court, the Trump administration chose to use taxpayer dollars on this wasteful and useless management plan. It should be obvious there are better things to spend taxpayer dollars on. Instead, Trump and his political cronies are going full force ahead with this illegal reduction of public land protections,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project.
The Government Accountability Office is leading an ongoing investigation into a potential violation of appropriations law, which prevents the Interior Department from spending funds to conduct leasing or preleasing activities in certain established national monuments. The illegal reduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is widely unsupported, with over 100 members of Congress signing an amicus brief opposing the move.
On December 4, 2017, President Trump announced his plan to illegally reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument, along with the Grand Staircase Escalante – the largest elimination of public land protections in American history. Since then, conservation groups and tribes have sued the administration, arguing that President Trump didn’t have the authority to reduce the size of national monuments under the Antiquities Act. Cases are still pending in federal court – making Trump’s management plan announcement a move to undermine the court’s decision-making authority.
Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former mega-lobbyist for extractive industries, pushed the Department to strongly support the illegal reduction of the two national monuments. Previous analysis by the New York Times found that oil was central in the decision to shrink Bears Ears, despite then-Secretary Ryan Zinke’s repeated claims that it was not. Previous Western Values Project analysis has documented that many of the areas taken out of both Bears Ears and Grand Stair-Case national monuments are rich in oil, gas, coal and uranium reserves.