The president is visiting Utah this morning to formally announce that he’s shrinking two national monuments previously designated by two former Democratic presidents: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Trump’s decision, revealed last month by the Salt Lake Tribune, has outraged environmentalists and tribal groups who contend that the sites—particularly the 1.35 million acre Bears Ears—contain ancient and sacred artifacts and should be federally protected from recreational and other activities. But Trump has sided with Republican lawmakers and local leaders who believe the state should be able to decide what happens on its own land. “We’re going to be doing something that the state of Utah and others have wanted to be done for many, many years,” Trump told reporters on Monday before boarding Air Force One. “It will be one of the great ... really events in this country in a long time—so important for states’ rights, and so important for the people of Utah.”
Trump didn’t directly say who the “others” are that have wanted the federal government to shrink or eliminate these monuments. But one is certainly the fossil fuel interests. As Reuters reported, the executive order Trump signed in April to allow national monument designations to be rescinded or reduced came “as the administration pushes to open up more federal land to drilling, mining and other development.”
Bears Ears is in the industry’s sights. This summer, a Tribune investigation found that oil and gas interests “hope to tap hydrocarbon deposits under parts of the Bears Ears region that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may soon recommend removing from the monument.” Specifically, the Tribune found that industry has been eyeing a 2.7-million-acre area called the San Juan County Energy Zone, which the Utah legislature had previously been considering to open up to the industry. Much of that area became off limits when former President Barack Obama proclaimed Bears Ears a monument in December 2016.
Public land advocate Randi Spivak told the Tribune that drilling in Bears Ears was “a clear and present danger,” and that “the only thing staying in the way is monument status.” Today, Trump will begin the process of removing that obstacle—surely the start of a long legal fight. “What’s next, President Trump—the Grand Canyon?” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “See you in court.”