Prologue: The Antiquities Act of l906 was one of President Theodore Roosevelt’s major conservation achievements. It gave presidents unilateral authority to establish monuments that preserved the natural beauty of the vast lands across the country. It did not give them the authority to abolish the monuments. That right was held only by Congress which also has the right to create national parks. It is not clear if a president can significantly reduce the size of a monument. Over the years, different presidents have established monuments in different regions and states. Millions of Americans have traveled to see and wonder at the beauty of the Canyons, Waterfalls, Forests and Wildlife Refuges that have been set aside and protected from commercial exploitation.
Donald J.Trump’s policies on U. S. monuments: Soon after Ryan Zinke was confirmed by the senate as Secretary of the Interior , he was ordered by the president to review all national monuments of over l00,000 acres that were designated after 1996. While the order covered 27 monuments in all, the order was aimed primarily at two monuments in Utah: 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase Escalante , established by President Bill Clinton in 1996, and Bears Ears, a 1.35 million acre expanse protected by President Barack Obama. Trump ordered the reduction of Grand Staircase by 800,000 acres, nearly half its size; Bears Ears by 1.1 million acres, 85 percent of its size. In his order Trump wrote that “he had to rush to the rescue of local citizens who were trampled by “federal overreach” and “because some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington”.
Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah, as well as state representatives have resented public ownership of Utah’s lands. In contrast, polls show strong citizen support for most of the monuments. It is also important to know that five Native American nations live on the acres of the two designated monuments slated for reduction. They deeply value the artifacts, natural stone structures and graveyards as intrinsic to their history. They have lived for thousands of years on those acres. Lawsuits have already begun, voted upon by five tribal councils, Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and Ute, and environmental groups as well as Patagonia, the large outdoors company. The outcome of the suits which may take many months will affect not only these two monuments but also eight others that Zinke has recommended for smaller downsizing or changes in management. Let’s note that Mr. Zinke rode to work for his first day at the Interior Department astride a horse, an ironic comparison to Teddy Roosevelt that he has spoken of several times. As president, T.R. gave federal monument status to 230 million acres for 18 national monuments. Zinke has reduced those lands by ten million acres in just ten months.
After Trump’s trip to Utah to make his announcement, Mike Lee said, “He’s been sympathetic to the fact we have been mistreated. And I’m grateful that he is willing to correct it. “ However, there was a sharp outcry from Rhea Smith, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who asked, “What’s next , President Trump, The Grand Canyon?”
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge opened to oil drilling: The Senate tax bill included a provision by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to authorize oil drilling in the coastal plain of the Refuge, a 1.5 million acre strip that was not protected in the original law creating the refuge. This area is of great importance to environmentalists and economic significance to Native Americans. Previous tries to open the refuge have failed. President Clinton vetoed an attempt in 1995 while moderate Republicans defeated another try in 2005. It is estimated that the refuge holds about seven billion barrels of recoverable oil, about a year’s consumption in the United States. However, at present, we are cutting back importing oil from the OPEC nations since we are able to meet the diminishing need for oil and other fossil fuels. Wind and solar power are on the rise throughout the country.
“War on Coal is over .” Closely allied to the reduction of millions of acres in monument lands is the Trump’s policy to support coal mining as essential to the growth of jobs. He began this slogan during the campaign and continued once he arrived in the Oval Office. Surrounded by coal mining executives and workers, he announced, “The war on coal is over!” and signed his executive order to support coal mining as they cheered. A reality check shows that coal mines have been closing since demand for fossil fuels has continued to drop due to wind and solar power increases across the country. Both non-fossil fuel sources are growing rapidly as industry discovers costs and value make them more profitable than coal. In addition, the environmental benefits are clearly better for the health of American citizens. President Obama’s policy for clean power plants plus the bans on certain noxious gases are reducing the pollution of the nation’s air and water dramatically. Challenged in the courts, the Supreme Court supported Obama’s power plant policy as in line with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts enacted by Congress.
Yet, Scott Pruitt, Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency, E.P.A. has met with mining companies and told them to apply for new permits. Scott Pruitt is a climate change denier with close ties to fossil fuel industries . He is one of the cabinet members chosen by Trump for his record of opposition to the long time goals of his area. Pruitt has been systematically dismantling Obama’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in line with Trump’s decision to withdraw from the global agreement and Paris pact on setting goals to reduce carbon emissions. We are now one of only two countries not taking part in the agreement to reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming.
Epilogue: Bear’s Ears Monument is described as a “vast, remote stretch of red rock canyons dotted with Native American sites…..” As I researched and wrote this blog, I remembered the timeless response by one of the tribal leaders when he was approached by settlers migrating into their lands. “The Earth is our Mother and we cannot sell our mother.”
…………………………………………………………………………………….Joyce S. Anderson