Stop Trump allies from selling the West
With cheers for President Barack Obama for saving Utah’s Bears Ears still echoing through the environmental community, a powerful Utah congressman is encouraging the Trump administration to nullify the presidential order that preserved this unique southeast Utah landscape.
Created by Obama during his final days in office under the authority of the 1912 Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to create national monuments without going through Congress, the Bears Ears designation is now being challenged by Utah GOP Rep. Rob Bishop.
Bishop, who chairs the influential House Committee on Natural Resources, is encouraging Trump to take the unprecedented step of nullifying Obama’s presidential order. “It is the wrong size,” according to Bishop. “It does not take into account the various things that land can do.”
No past president has attempted to overturn a predecessor’s monument designation. “The law here is murky,” University of Colorado law professor Mark Squillace, an authority on the Antiquities Act, told NPR. “The way the Antiquities Act is structured, it essentially authorizes the president to proclaim, but not to modify or revoke, national monuments.” Only Congress can revoke a presidential monument proclamation.
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Trump nominee for secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke (R-Montana) told the lawmakers the Antiquities Act does not empower a president to overturn a predecessor’s designated monument. “Legally it’s untested,” Zinke said. He added his opinion that the number of monuments were generally a public benefit.
Republicans seem unsure about taking on the issue. In a resounding defeat, Utah U.S. Rep Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has dropped his plan to force the sale of 3.3 million acres of BLM public land in the West to the highest bidder.
The Bill, HR 621, Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017, directed the secretary of the Interior “to sell certain federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal and other purposes.”
A national bow hunting organization described it in more ominous terms: “Half of one percent of federal land doesn’t seem so bad does it? I mean it’s ONLY 3.3 million acres of land. Let’s put that into perspective: 3.3 million acres is roughly the same size as the State of Connecticut (3.5 million acres). Don’t let the clever wording of their bill fool you. This is a very large amount of land in question here. Not to mention this would set a significant, and troubling, precedent for further sale of public lands.”
This bill seems to directly contradict Interior Secretary appointee Zinke’s statement in his confirmation hearing earlier this month that, “I am absolutely against transfer and sale of public lands. I can’t be more clear.”
After an outpouring of objection from hunters and sportsmen, Chaffetz announced, “I am withdrawing HR 621. I’m a proud gun owner and love our public lands. The bill would have disposed of small parcels of land President Clinton identified as serving no public purpose but groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message…. I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow.”
After only a week, Chaffetz and his supporters were forced into retreat from their plans to privatize public lands.
“I think we are seeing, across all sorts of issues, a grass roots energy really pushing elected officials to stand with their constituents. Public lands allies and sportsmen across the West are fired up about this stuff. This is sort of a red line for them,” said the deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, Greg Zimmerman. “Outdoor businesses and the outdoor recreation community is recognizing they are a big industry and very important to these rural western economies and we are seeing this Congress really kowtow to oil and gas and coal interests. They’re saying we are the future of the West and our voices need to be heard.”
This is but one minor skirmish in a much greater fight for the preservation of our Western lands, but it puts the Trump administration on notice that they cannot reverse years of progress toward more sensible management of Western land by one of Trump’s autocratic presidential orders.
“While this is certainly heartening that Congressman Chaffetz heard people and responded, we are going to continue to make a heck of a lot of noise. This is an uphill battle and it’s one being fought on several fonts,” said National Wildlife Federation spokeswoman Judith Koehler. “Even though we keep saying the same thing over and over, we are going to have to keep it up.”
To keep up the pressure, write, call, email or send a tweet to your congressional representatives and let them know you will not tolerate efforts by Trump and his Republican allies to roll back protection for our public lands.