President Trump traveled to Utah on Monday and delivered news dreaded by environmentalists and Native American groups but praised by those who accuse the federal government of overreach. Trump announced he is reducing the size of two national monuments spanning millions of acres in Utah—Bears Ears, which was so designated by President Obama, and Grand Staircase-Escalante, designated by President Clinton. The controversial move is being immediately challenged in court by groups questioning Trump's authority to undo the moves of his predecessors, reports the New York Times. Details and developments:
- The cuts: Bears Ears is shrinking by 1.1 million acres and Grand Staircase by more than 800,000 acres. That adds up to what the Washington Post calls "the largest reduction of public lands protection in US history." The move opens the lands up for energy exploration and other uses.
- Now 5 monuments: Trump's move actually turns the two national monuments into five, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Bears Ears get split into two: Shah Jaa (129,980 acres) and Indian Creek (71,896 acres), down significantly from Obama's total of 1.35 million acres. Grand Staircase gets split into three: Grand Staircase (209,993 acres) Kaiparowits (551,034 acres), and Escalante Canyon (242,836 acres). That amounts to about 1 million acres, down from the original 1.9 million.
- The legal fight: It hinges on what's known as the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gave Obama, Clinton, and other presidents the authority to designate protected national monuments. Whether Trump or any president has the authority to undo the protections has never been tested in court, explains the New York Times. It will be now, however, and if the challengers lose, Trump "and future presidents could drastically shrink any of the dozens of monuments created by their predecessors, opening the formerly protected terrain for all kinds of development."
- Trump's rationale: "Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats, and guess what? They're wrong," Trump said in his Utah speech, per CBS News. He also used the the term "federal overreach."
- Protests: About 3,000 largely peaceful demonstrators blocked traffic in Salt Lake City to protest Trump's move, and the AP has details.
- What now: The litigation will take a while to play out, so don't expect to see drilling rigs immediately filing into the area, reports National Geographic. Still, the story notes that Bears Ears has oil and gas fields, at least on what was formerly its boundaries, and Grand Staircase has coal.
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