Earlier this month Donald Trump hailed his edict slashing Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument by some 85 percent as a great move for American citizens. But another interest was likely far more delighted: a mining company that lobbied for the change in a bid for access to uranium on the public land.
The Washington Post discovered a campaign by Energy Fuels Resources, a U.S. subsidiary of a Canadian firm, urging the Trump administration to dramatically reduce Bears Ears. The company reached out just months before Trump announced he was slashing the 1.35 million acre site down to 202,000 acres.
Company CEO Mark Chalmers complained in a May 25 letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that the national monument protections could “affect existing and future mill operations” of the company, which owns a mill adjacent to Bears Ears. He added: “There are also many other known uranium and vanadium deposits ... that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future.”
Zinke has insisted the president’s push to reduce national monuments has nothing to do with mining interests. “This is not about energy,” Zinke told reporters last week. “There is no mine within Bears Ears.”
But the president’s redrawn boundaries of Bears Ears now puts the uranium deposits outside the protected area, Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert pointed out in an interview with the Post.
Energy Fuels Resources also paid $30,000 to lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels to push for the change throughout this year, according to federal records, the newspaper reported. The lobbying team was headed by Andrew Wheeler, whom Trump has tapped to be deputy secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency. Wheeler is awaiting Senate confirmation.
Members of the energy firm also had a private meeting about Bears Ears with Zinke advisers, according to the Post.
Trump has blasted the national monuments as a “massive giveaway” to the public. He ordered Zinke earlier this year to review 27 sites and make recommendations about their future.
When Trump traveled to Utah earlier this month to gut both Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, he blasted them as an “abuse of the Antiquities Act.” The “abuses ... have not just threatened your local economies, they’ve threatened your very way of life,” Trump said. “They’ve threatened your hearts.” He said his actions “reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens ... Public lands will once again be for public use.”
Bears Ears is sacred to the Navajo, and a coalition of Indian tribes has filed suit to block Trump’s plan, arguing that he has usurped congressional power in his unilateral move to seize public lands. Another suit by a group of environmental groups and activist retailer Patagonia was also filed last week to block the Bears Ears cuts.
A lawsuit by a coalition of environmental groups, as well as another one by conservation groups and archaeologists were filed last week in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to block Trump’s carving up of the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument. Trump’s proclamation would cut in half the 1.9 million-acre site, the nation’s largest land national monument. The Utah reductions together represent the largest reduction of national monuments in American history.
“This is as bad as we expected, based on the lies and misrepresentations that we have heard throughout Interior Secretary Zinke’s sham ‘review’” of the national monuments, Brian Sybert, executive director of the Conservation Lands Foundation, said in a statement.
“This administration will stop at nothing to ensure that their private industry cronies can profit from the destruction of even our most highly valued public lands, to the point of undoing protections that have been in place for two decades.”
The suit that Sybert’s group is involved in — which also includes the Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology — argues that Trump unconstitutionally and illegally assumed congressional powers in reducing an established national monument to arrange the decimation of “one of the most renowned conservation sites” in the country, with “thousands of sensitive scientific, historic, prehistoric, archaeological, paleontological, cultural, and natural resources located across its landscape.” The Kaiparowits Plateau is home to dinosaur fossils millions of years old, believed to be among the most important collections in the world.
Trump’s planned “diminishment of protections causes ... harm to the organizations, businesses, and individuals who value the monument and depend on its status and the protections such designation affords for advancing scientific research, their livelihoods, and their enjoyment and spiritual fulfillment,” the suit reads. “This action harms the American people by undermining the protection of key treasured portions of our nation’s public lands legacy.”