President Trump this week is expected to take the first step toward potentially undoing national monuments created by his predecessors, and may set off an unprecedented legal battle in the process.
Mr. Trump‘s looming executive order, first reported by The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday, will direct the Interior Department to review all monument designations for the past two decades, dating back to President Bill Clinton’s creation of the massive Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument in Utah in 1996.
The Interior Department is also expected to zero in on the 1.3 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument, also in Utah and established by former President Barack Obama in the final weeks of his term.
Mr. Obama set a record for the most land and sea set aside as national monuments, taking presidential authority under the century-old Antiquities Act to new levels. And by cordoning off those huge swaths, he shut them down to energy development and other activities.
Bears Ears was especially controversial. Not only did it come during the last month of Mr. Obama’s tenure, but the designation was made over the objections of many Utah lawmakers.
Other designations, including a massive marine monument off the coast of New England, an 87,000-acre tract of Maine wilderness and a host of others also generated controversy.
Critics of Mr. Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act welcomed news that the Trump administration plans to revisit the issue.
“We’re happy to see an administration finally taking action to resolve the many abuses of the Antiquities Act,” said Molly Block, spokeswoman for the House Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over national monuments.
Other Republicans who have been critical of the Bears Ears designation said it’s past time to rein in a president’s authority in naming monuments.
“For years, I have fought every step of the way to ensure that our lands are managed by the Utahans [who] know them best and cherish them deeply,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “That’s why I’m committed to rolling back the egregious abuse of the Antiquities Act to serve far-left special interests. As part of this commitment, I have leveraged all of my influence — from private meetings in the Oval Office in the president’s first week in office to my latest trip to Bears Ears this week — to ensure that this issue is a priority on the president’s agenda.”But should Mr. Trump seek to formally roll back Bears Ears or any other monument, he’ll be entering a legal gray area, and his actions surely will be challenged in court by environmentalists.
The Antiquities Act, signed into law in 1906, gives the president clear authority to designate national monuments. While Mr. Trump‘s executive order reportedly will direct the Interior Department to review the scope of that law, on the surface it seems as if Mr. Obama and presidents before him were well within their authority to establish sprawling monuments.