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Trump review threatens to rip up Obama protections for wilderness areas

By Oliver Milman, theguardian.com

211 days ago   Article ID# 4139140
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Center for Biological Diversity

LONDON, U K (theguardian.com) - Donald Trump is triggering a review of protections that cover more than a billion acres of US public land and waters in a move that could potentially rescind the designation of several national monuments declared by previous presidents.

Trump will on Wednesday sign an executive order relating to the Antiquities Act, a law introduced by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 which gives presidents the ability to name areas of federal land and waters as national monuments. The order will direct Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior, to review about 30 national monuments that are larger than 100,000 acres and have been declared since 1996.

Zinke will recommend if any monuments should be “rescinded, modified or resized”. No national monument’s status has ever been revoked previously and any attempt to cancel or shrink a protected area would almost certainly spark a legal battle waged by environmental groups.

“In some cases national monuments have resulted in the loss of jobs, reduced wages and loss of public access,” Zinke said. “We feel the public, the people the monuments affect, should be considered and given a meaningful voice.

“As a kid I grew up in Montana, in the west, where a lot of these monuments have taken place. This executive order is long overdue.”

Zinke said the review did not have any preordained outcome and insisted that “no one loves our public lands more than me”.

“I’m a lifetime supporter and admirer of Teddy Roosevelt and the president is the same,” Zinke said.

National monuments have been declared by presidents of both major parties but Republicans have been angered by what they saw as overreach by Bill Clinton and, in particular, Barack Obama. During his presidency, Obama named 24 monuments on land and sea spanning more than 550m acres – more than double that set aside by Roosevelt, a well-known conservationist.

During his final month in office, Obama designated 1.35m acres of southern Utah as the Bears Ears national monument. The designation, applauded by several tribal leaders who regard the area as sacred, protects an area that includes twin buttes that resemble a bear raising its head.

Republicans from Utah vigorously opposed the designation and Zinke’s review will initially focus on Bears Ears. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Orrin Hatch, a senator from Utah, said Obama “betrayed” people in the state in order to “satisfy the demands of far-left interest groups”.

“President Trump understands better than anyone the lasting damage wrought by past presidents under the Antiquities Act – and he stands ready to undo the harm brought about by their overreach,” Hatch wrote.

Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican congressman, has also raised the issue with Trump while Rob Bishop, chairman of the House committee on natural resources, has said the Bears Ears monument is the wrong size and should allow for activities such as grazing or oil and gas drilling.

According for the Center for Biological Diversity, a review of national monuments since 1996 would encompass more than one billion acres of land and water set aside by Clinton, George W Bush and Obama.

The vast majority of this total is made up of marine reserves – such as the expansion of the huge Papahānaumokuākea monument in Hawaii by Obama last year – but also includes land-based monuments considered contentious by Republicans.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument in Utah, the Cascade-Siskiyou national monument in Oregon and the Rio Grande del Norte national monument in New Mexico are among those that will be particularly scrutinized. Environmentalists argue that these areas protect wildlife such as the bald eagle, moose, bear and lynx, safeguard cultural heritage and aid local economies by boosting tourism.

“This is a frightening step toward dismantling protections for some of America’s most important and iconic places: our national parks and monuments,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“President Trump is tapping into the rightwing, anti-public-land zealotry that will take us down a very dangerous path – a place where Americans no longer have control over public lands and corporations are left to log, mine and bulldoze them into oblivion. It starts with Bears Ears and Grand Staircase and only gets worse from there.”

An initial report, centered largely on Bears Ears, will be submitted by the Department of Interior within 45 days. A full set of recommendations to the White House will be delivered within 120 days.

It is expected that Trump will follow up the executive order with a further decree on Friday that will revisit Obama’s banning of offshore drilling in the Atlantic and parts of the Arctic.

Trump has vowed to “unleash” energy development, mainly oil, gas and coal, by demolishing various environmental protections erected by Obama’s administration. A ban on coal companies dumping waste into streams has been revoked, while air and water pollution standards are set to be rewritten by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Obama’s clean power plan, which would limit emissions from coal-fired power plants, is also slated for abolition, while a pause on coalmining on public lands has been lifted.

This month, Scott Pruitt, administrator of the EPA, toured a Pennsylvania mine that had to pay out $3m last year for allowing contaminated wastewater to flow into the Ohio river. During the visit Pruitt said the “war on coal is over” and outlined a vision of deregulation and economic growth for mining communities.

The malaise suffered by the coal industry has largely been caused by the availability of cheap, abundant natural gas rather than onerous environmental restrictions, according to several analysts.

Copyright 2017 theguardian.com   (Copyright Terms)
Updated 211 days ago   Article ID# 4139140

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