Trump to Shrink Utah Monuments Holding Artifacts and Minerals

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump is expected to announce Monday that he’ll shrink two national monuments in Utah that contain stunning red-sandstone vistas, historic relics and energy resources, arguing his predecessor overstepped in protecting the land.

Trump is traveling to Salt Lake City for the announcement, and will also meet with leaders of the Mormon Church. He’s accompanied on Air Force One by Utah Senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, who is contemplating whether to run for re-election next year when he’ll turn 84.

Trump’s decision would scale back the 1.4-million-acre Bears Ears and 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments even more dramatically than had been expected after an Interior Department review of recently designated sites. 

The move would mark the most significant reduction ever to a previous president’s national monument designation, and it’s certain to be challenged in federal court by environmental and Native American groups that supported the protection.

The monuments were established under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to set aside land to protect historic landmarks, structures or other objects of historic or scientific interest. Former President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears as a national monument last December over the objections of Utah’s Republican political leadership.

Hatch and other lawmakers from the state have fought against the Bears Ears monument, a site that contains historic petroglyphs, artifacts and uranium. More than 90 percent of the site overlaps with potential reserves of oil, gas and coal, according to an analysis of U.S. government data by Greenpeace.

Former President Bill Clinton established Grand Staircase in 1996. The site contains billions of tons of coal, according to a 19-page memo from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Presidents of both parties have set aside increasingly large parcels of land, raising the ire of Western Republican lawmakers worried the protections will constrain energy development and animal grazing.

Under the law, presidents are supposed to reserve “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected," but critics say some designations flout that small-scale approach. In announcing a review of monuments in April, Trump termed national monuments a “massive federal land grab” and cast their designation as an “abuse” that stripped power from local residents. 

Unlike national parks, which must be established by Congress, each monument has its own rules for how the land can be used. And for most recent monument proclamations, that has meant barring new mining claims and oil, gas and mineral leases, according to an assessment by the Congressional Research Service. Existing mineral rights have typically been protected.

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