A coalition of environmental groups on Monday sued the Trump administration after the White House announced it would dramatically scale back two national monuments in Utah, opening up millions of acres to potential oil and gas development.
The lawsuit, filed by the nonprofit legal organization Earthjustice on behalf of nearly a dozen leading green organizations, called President Trump’s decision to cut by roughly half the protected land of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument an “unlawful proclamation” that “leaves remarkable fossil, cultural, scenic and geological treasures exposed to immediate and ongoing harm.”
Paired with a call to shrink the Bears Ears National Monument by about 85 percent, the reductions amount to some two million acres.
“President Trump has perpetrated a terrible violation of America’s public lands and heritage by going after this dinosaur treasure trove,” Heidi McIntosh, the managing attorney at Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountains office, said in a statement. “While past presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect unique lands and cultural sites in America, Trump is instead mangling the law, opening this national monument to coal mining instead of protecting its scientific, historic, and wild heritage. We will not let this stand.”
Trump’s move, the largest reduction of national monuments in history, was long expected after he ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the 27 national monuments created since 1996.
“I’ve come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach and return the rights of this land to your citizens,” Trump said during a speech in Salt Lake City.
The move was met with near universal scorn from environmentalists and Native American tribes, who called the revocation of status “absolutely shocking” and “disrespectful.”
“We will stand and fight all the way,” Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, told The New York Times.
Michael Brune, executive director of The Sierra Club ― also party to the suit ― echoed those calls and said activists’ commitment to protect the two monuments was “unwavering.”
“We’ll fight this in court, but we’ll do much more than that,” he wrote on Twitter. “We’ll fight every mining and drilling proposal that comes next. And we’ll prevail.”
A number of legal scholars have argued that Congress has the sole legal power to rescind or weaken protections for national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act. The monuments are akin to national parks, but are designated by the president. There have been 157 such monuments created since the act was passed in 1906.
Both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments have been a source of political turmoil after Republicans blasted their establishment under Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton as an overreach by the federal government. Utah lawmakers, including Sens. Orrin Hatch (R) and Mike Lee (R), applauded Trump for his decision, with Lee saying he was “grateful” that the president was “sympathetic to the fact that we’ve been mistreated.”
“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Trump said from the Utah State Capitol on Monday. “And guess what? They’re wrong.”