Incoming House committee chairman demands accountability for Trump’s destructive monument policy

Rep. Raúl Grijalva is planning hearings on Trump's attacks on Utah national monuments.

As he prepares to take over as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and his staff are mapping out the best approach for fighting the Trump administration’s attacks on national monuments.

With the Republicans holding majority power in the House of Representatives for another month, Grijalva and his fellow Democrats will follow a legal approach against the Trump administration’s national monument policy — at least for the time being.

But when he takes control of the gavel in January 2019, Grijalva and his fellow Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee will have significantly greater powers to investigate the Trump administration’s controversial decision to decimate two national monuments in Utah.

“We have to hold those responsible for those actions accountable,” Grijalva told ThinkProgress. “As we assume the majority, we’re going to hold hearings to examine the review process conducted by the administration, who the stakeholders were and weren’t, and look at that whole rushed planning process on both monuments.”

In December 2017, President Donald Trump announced the largest-ever reduction of a national monument in the nation’s history, shrinking Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by some 1.1 million acres, or nearly 85 percent. Trump also announced that he would be reducing Grand Staircase-Escalante, another national monument in the state, to nearly half its original size.

In total, Trump eliminated 2 million acres of protections — the largest rollback of federally protected lands in American history. The Antiquities Act of 1906 does not give the president legal authority to revoke or modify a monument, only to designate one.

The two reductions came after a Department of the Interior review, initiated in April, which looked at all national monuments created since 1996.

“Who were the stakeholders that really influenced this? Because certainly the people left out of that process, in terms of consultation and discussion, never got a full hearing on that,” Grijalva said. “The people that did have access to the process were from industry. We’re going to look at that and attempt to make connections.”

Documents released earlier this year by DOI revealed that agency officials favored fossil fuel interests, along with ranching and logging. The revelations built on previous emails obtained by the New York Times in March that revealed oil and gas drilling was a key incentive for the Trump administration to shrink national monuments.

Together with investigating the secretive process used by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to decide which monuments to shrink, Grijalva, a nine-term congressman, plans to follow a legislative approach in response to the attack on the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

In December 2017, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Grijalva, to protect Bears Ears from the Trump’s administration’s redrawing of the monument’s boundaries.

Another bill, introduced in mid-2018, would enhance protections for national monuments against the Trump administration’s attacks on public lands. The bill was introduced by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) — who was elected governor of New Mexico earlier this month — and was co-sponsored by Grijalva and 60 other House members.

Lujan Grisham’s bill is the House companion to Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-NM) bill, S. 2354. The bills would legally codify the boundaries of more than 50 national monuments established since the Antiquities Act of 1906, and block the president from changing them.

At a minimum, the House Natural Resources Committee, under Democratic leadership, will hold a hearing on the two House bills, according to Grijalva. “We have the legislative part of it and then we have the oversight investigative part of it,” the congressman said of his plans to approach the national monuments issue.

Since the midterm elections, Grijalva has been throwing his weight behind legal efforts in federal courts to reverse the administration’s decision on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Grijalva and Udall led a group of 92 House members and 26 senators who submitted an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief in support of plaintiffs that are fighting in federal court the administration’s decision to significantly diminish the size of the national monuments.

It is highly unusual to have such a large and diverse set of groups weigh in at this level of court proceedings. The filings included 118 members of Congress, 11 attorneys general, 15 leading public land legal scholars, and 21 local mayors and council members.

The court filing “makes it clear that Congress never delegated to the president the authority to repeal or reduce existing national monuments,” Grijalva told ThinkProgress. “It’s about ensuring the proper checks and balances,” he added.

The plaintiffs, which include Native American Tribes, scientific groups, businesses, and conservation organizations, contend the Trump administration’s actions violate both the Constitution and the Antiquities Act of 1906.

“By revoking protections for millions of acres of public lands, President Trump has overstepped the authority delegated to presidents by Congress, putting cherished national monuments like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante on the chopping block in an egregious giveaway to big corporations,” Udall said in a November 19 statement when the brief was submitted to the court.

The Department of Justice is scheduled to file its reply with the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia in support of its motion to dismiss the lawsuits by December 13. The judge is expected to rule on the Trump administration’s motion to dismiss between late December and the first half of 2019.

Upon taking over as chairman, Grijalva said committee members and staffers will visit the two national monuments in southeastern Utah. The congressman may even decide to hold a hearing in the region. “We’re going to talk to groups that were excluded from the process,” he said, “and bring them, such as the tribes, in for hearings.”

While the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General reported this week that it found no evidence Zinke shrunk Grand Staircase-Escalante as a favor to a Utah state lawmaker, Grijalva still plans to make probes into the Interior secretary’s conduct a top priority.

Grijalva has already indicated that Zinke will be one of the committee’s biggest oversight targets. The secretary is expected to be called into a hearing in February to explain the many investigations into his conduct.

By:  Mark Hand
Source: Raúl M. Grijalva