Trump administration moves ahead on shrinking Utah monuments

Thursday, February 6, 2020
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AP

Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The U.S. government implemented final management plans Thursday for two national monuments in Utah that President Donald Trump downsized. The plans ensure lands previously off-limits to energy development will be open to mining and drilling despite pending lawsuits by conservation, tribal and paleontology groups challenging the constitutionality of the president’s action.

The lands have generated little interest from energy companies in the two years since Trump cut the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half, said Casey Hammond, acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management with the U. S. Department of the Interior. 

Hammond said in a conference call the department had a duty to work on the management plans after Trump signed his proclamations in December 2017, despite the pending lawsuits that seek to return the monuments to their original sizes. 

“If we stopped and waited for every piece of litigation to be resolved we would never be able to do much of anything around here,” Hammond said. 

Market dynamics have limited interest in a large coal reserve found in the now unprotected lands cut from Grand Staircase and uranium on lands cut from Bears Ears.

But an economic analysis by the U.S. government estimates coal production could lead to $208 million in annual revenues and $16.6 million in royalties on lands cut from Grand Staircase. Oil and gas wells in that area could produce $4.1 million in annual revenues, the analysis says.

If interest comes as energy market forces shift, Hammond said the lands cut remain under federal control and governed by “time-tested laws” and subject to environmental regulations. He rebuffed the oft-repeated claim from conservation groups that there would be a “free-for-all” for mineral development. 

“Any suggestion that these lands and resources will be adversely impacted by the mere act of being excluded from the monuments is simply not true,” Hammond said. 

Trump cut the size monuments following review of 27 national monuments by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. He recommended shrinking two other monuments as well, but Trump has yet to take action.

Trump said he scaled back the size of the monuments to reverse misuse of the Antiquities Act by previous Democratic presidents that he said led to oversized monuments that hinder energy development, grazing and other uses. The move earned cheers from Republican leaders in Utah including former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch.

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