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Shrinking National Monument Was About Oil After All: Report

NYT gets Interior Department emails that contradict Secretary Ryan Zinke
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 2, 2018 8:08 PM CST
This May 8, 2017 file photo shows Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.   (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File)

(Newser) – "Bears Ears isn't really about oil and gas," Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke said at a news conference in May 2017. Evidence from over 25,000 pages of department emails obtained by the New York Times shows that wasn't necessarily true. Last year President Trump called for a review of the country's national monuments to determine the future of the federally protected lands, and in December he announced a plan to shrink Utah's Bears Ears National Monument by 85%. During the process to review Bears Ears and other national monuments, Zinke said the agency didn't have certain outcomes in mind. But months earlier, a senior Interior Department official received an email from an aide to Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch.

The March 2017 email asked the Interior official to consider shrinking Bears Ears to allow access to natural gas and oil, the profits from which could be used to fund public schools in Utah. The email, which was sent about a month before Zinke publicly announced the Interior Department was reviewing national monuments, even included a map showing the proposed boundary change. Trump ended up announcing far more drastic changes than what was in the map, but the boundary changes proposed by Hatch's aide ended up being incorporated almost exactly. Click here to read the full story, which includes an Interior Department memo that emphasized to staff the need to look closely at the "annual production of coal, oil, gas, and renewables" on the protected lands.

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