President Trump is flouting the law to shrink the Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah to open up drilling, mining, and fracking, but indigenous and environmental groups are pushing back
AARON MATÉ: In what has been called an unprecedented use of presidential power, President Trump has announced the shrinking of Utah’s federal national monuments. Trump said that public lands of both Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will face massive cuts. DONALD TRUMP: I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action, to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens. I will sign two presidential proclamations. These actions will modify the national monuments designations of both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. AARON MATÉ: While President Trump classified the Antiquities Act as government overreach, Native Americans refer to it as protection of their ancestral lands. JOSEPH SUINA: … the Pueblos belief that our ancestral sites are sacred and that those who lived here and died here still occupy these places and so we, of course, come to honor them and to protect these places, which never left, in essence. We still have our connection here and although we are in another state, there’s no boundaries, no state boundaries, no time boundaries. We continue to honor those people who gave us the culture and the language that we have. AARON MATÉ: Trump intends to shrink the 1.3 million acre Bears Ears National Monument by over 220,000 acres and split it into two separate areas. It also seeks a 50% cut to Utah’s 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is thought to contain over 60 billion tons of coal. Unlike national parks that can only be created by an act of Congress, national monuments can be designated unilaterally by presidents under the century-old Antiquities Act, a law meant to protect sacred sites, artifacts and historical objects. DONALD TRUMP: Past administrations have severely abused the purpose, spirit and intent of a century-old law known as the Antiquities Act. The results have been very sad and very predictable. Here and in other affected states, we have seen harmful and unnecessary restrictions on hunting, ranching and responsible economic development. AARON MATÉ: Native American tribal leaders and environmental groups are harshly critical of the president’s use of the Antiquities Act. RANDI SPIVAK: For folks not familiar with the Antiquities Act, this is one of the oldest and most important conservation laws that we have. It was signed by President Roosevelt back in 1906 and Congress passed that law, and what that law did was give presidents the express authority to designate as national monuments on lands that are already publicly owned, a higher conservation status to protect objects of historic and scientific interest. The reason Congress gave the president the authority is because Congress at the time, understood that it could not, or would not, pass legislation to protect individual places on public lands. By giving the president the authority, they acknowledged that presidents need to have this authority to move swiftly to protect some of our most magnificent and iconic places. AARON MATÉ: Trump’s announcement follows a months-long review by the Interior Department that he ordered in April to identify which of 27 monuments designated by past presidents should be rescinded or resized to provide states and local communities more control over how their land is used. DONALD TRUMP: With your help in treating our natural bounty with respect, gratitude and love, we will put our nation’s treasures to great and wonderful use. AARON MATÉ: The concern is that if Trump has his way, there may not be much left of our national treasures. The announcement comes as part of an overall regulation rollback. Trump’s EPA recently said hard-rock mining companies do not have to have funds in place to pay for the cost to clean up the mines when they’re finished. RANDI SPIVAK: The fact that Trump is going to shrink these two monuments and likely others, but it’s going to be significant. What that means is that these places that are now protected from drilling, fracking, coal mining, that they will then be open to the highest bidders from corporate polluters. AARON MATÉ: Trump was met not only by public protest at the Utah capital, but his proclamations to reduce the two public monuments, the largest rollback of public land protection in US history, have been met with separate lawsuits. The Native American Rights Fund, who represent five tribes that currently manage Bears Ears Monument, say they will file a federal legal challenge. The group, Earthjustice, has also filed suit on behalf of other Native American and conservation groups over Grand Staircase-Escalante. Keep watching The Real News as we follow this unfolding story.