Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s office pushed back against claims made by environmentalists the Republican has made a secret deal with the Trump administration to reverse a national monument designation.
The Western Values Project (WVP), a left-leaning environmental group, sent out an email Wednesday night suggesting the Trump administration had already notified Lee the Bears Ears monument would be rescinded or narrowed.
“Senator Lee has no knowledge of any decision made by Sec. Zinke on the Bears Ears monument,” Lee spokesman Conn Carroll told The Daily Caller News Foundation, referring to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
WVP’s email included a 20-second video clip of Lee that was recorded in his Senate office that night. In the video, Lee says: “I am very confident there will be action on this, action will result in most likely the elimination of Bears Ears National Monument designation. And, if not that, I think there will at a minimum be a significant narrowing of that monument.”
That was enough for WVP to claim there’s some sort of conspiracy between Utah’s congressional delegation, which opposes Bears Ears, and the Trump administration.
“Have Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration already made promises to rescind Bears Ears to the anti-public land Utah delegation?” Chris Saeger, WVP’s executive director, said in a statement.
Saeger pointed to Lee’s comments as evidence the review initiated by the Trump administration into national monument designations made since the late 1990s is “nothing more than an excuse for Secretary Zinke to take his horse and pony show on the road.”
“Sen. Lee was only communicating his confidence that after speaking to the people San Juan County, to the residents, Native Americans, ranchers, and community leaders that actually live near the monument, that Secretary Zinke would do the right thing and rescind the monument,” Carroll said.
President Donald Trump ordered Zinke to review previous administrations’ use of the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments. Interior will see if past presidents abused their authority by ignoring local concerns.
Zinke will have 120 days to offer recommendations on whether to rescind or modify dozens of monument designations. He only has 45 days, however, to make a recommendation on Bears Ears.
Zinke recently toured Bears Ears and other monuments in Utah, talking with tribal officials, lawmakers, and locals about their thoughts on the monument. Utah officials and San Juan County residents oppose the Bears Ears monument.
President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears in late 2016 to the delight of environmental activists and American Indian tribal officials in the area.
Republicans and local residents, including some tribal members, opposed the monument, saying it was done over local concerns. Republicans have long criticized national monuments for their curtailing of ranching, mining, and drilling on public lands.