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Trump order sets up legal showdown with vast lands at stake

Tobias Pedroso | 28 Abril, 2017, 04:06

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that will reassess national monuments - potentially opening up even more federal lands for drilling, mining and other fossil fuel development.

It directs the Department of Interior to examine all lands designated as national monuments since 1996. In total, the lands and waters during these 20 years add up to tens of millions of acres and include a portion of the Sequoia National Forest in California, and Parashant National Monument in Arizona's Grand Canyon.

The monuments covered under the review will range from the Grand Staircase created by President Bill Clinton in 1996 to the Bears Ears created by Obama in December 2016, both in Utah.

"Today, I am signing a new executive order ending another egregious abuse of federal power and to give that power back to the states and to the people where it belongs", said the president.

The executive order was signed at the request of Republican Sen. "And it's easy to see why designations in some cases are viewed negatively by those local communities that are impacted the most".

Trump claims that the executive order is to give back the power to states after Obama denied development on hundreds of acres of federal land and waters.

But if the administration tries to go beyond a mere review to rescinding some monument designations, as critics fear, it would be breaking new ground: While the president has the power to designate monuments, no president has ever taken one away, they said.

The order is one of a handful the president is set to sign this week as he tries to rack up accomplishments ahead of his 100th day in office.

Some monuments have been reduced in size over the years, either by presidential order or by Congress, while others have been enlarged.

The order asks Zinke for a preliminary review in 45 days, followed by a full report in 120. The interior secretary will submit an interim report within 45 days focusing on the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which Obama established past year. But tellingly, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who will lead the review, said, "We're not afraid of getting sued".

Dave Eliason, PLC president, said while the Act was meant to preserve Native American artifacts and areas of historical importance, Presidents have instead used the Act to bypass Congress and local communities to place heavy restrictions on massive swaths of land. A fair review by Zinke will find that monument designations are made with strong public involvement, restrict few existing land uses, benefit local economies and are legally bulletproof.

George W. Bush's interior secretary, Gale Norton, also conducted an evaluation of national monuments designated under Bill Clinton's administration, but made a decision to let them stand. After all, the Antiquities Act of 1906 was inspired by the desire to protect Native American ruins.

Republicans had already been seeking to limit the law, with proposals of limiting the duration of national monuments and requiring approval from Congress or states before setting land aside.

Zinke said the outcome of the review was not pre-ordained. "He's disregarding the Native Americans, the first people of this nation".

Secretary of Interior, Ryan Zinke said the order does not strip any monuments of their current designation, or loosen environmental regulations.

"Under the law and congressional intent, only Congress can modify or revoke a monument", a designation that protects sites of scientific, historic or archeological interest, Shelley said. "He's going to be in for a fight".