Memo to Reporters: Utah National Monuments Story Includes History of Republican Lying About Public Outreach, Legal Record

Washington, D.C. – President Trump is expected to travel to Utah on Monday and announce plans to modify the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. President Trump’s actions – which are illegal and will face a series of court challenges – are based on blatant falsehoods and misrepresentations of the legal history and monument designation process.

In addition to a long history of now well-known fabrications and misstatements, Republicans must contend with the fact that neither the Antiquities Act nor any other law provides presidents with the legal authority to shrink monuments unilaterally. Neither President Trump nor any Republican on Capitol Hill has been able to locate that power in the text of any law, and the fact that Chairman Rob Bishop has offered a bill to create such authority clearly establishes that Republicans know what they are doing is illegal.

The legislative, legal and economic history of both monuments strongly suggests that Republicans are headed for yet another defeat. Coverage of Monday’s expected announcement should include this context.

Bears Ears National Monument – Debunked Republican Falsehoods

Contrary to repeated Republican claims, President Obama carefully followed the Antiquities Act and consulted extensively with Congress and other relevant stakeholders prior to last year’s designation of Bears Ears National Monument.  Baseless Republican accusations to the contrary were debunked in a memo published earlier this year by the Democratic Staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The memo, based on a thorough evaluation of internal documents provided to the committee, outlines extensive communication between the Obama administration, Utah’s congressional delegation, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other key regional stakeholders. Claims that Congress was not consulted prior to the designation are smoke and mirrors designed to justify eliminating a majority of the monument.

As detailed in an earlier report from the Democratic Staff of the Natural Resources Committee, Trump and his Republican allies are more interested in weakening conservation policy as a favor to extractive industry cronies than honoring requests by the Navajo Nation and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition to protect the Bears Ears region. The report lays out the multiple ways the Trump administration and congressional Republicans have sought to limit public input on environmental decisions and wipe out extraction limits on public lands.

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument – Clear Congressional Intent

Since President Clinton signed Proclamation 6920 to establish Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996, Utah politicians and other opponents of the monuments have claimed that the decision ignored local residents. These strident opponents view Mr. Trump’s attempted shrinking of the monument as no more than a correction.

They ignore the fact that Congress subsequently ratified the Monument’s boundaries and approved a multi-million-dollar financial payment to the State of Utah. Presidents cannot undo the will of Congress with the mere stroke of a pen.

The Long Congressional Record at Grand Staircase-Escalante

Congress has repeatedly validated President Clinton’s designation. The site’s extensive legislative history both ratifies the monument boundaries and invalidates any claims about lost economic opportunity in Utah.

The Utah Schools and Lands Exchange Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-335 ), signed into law October 31, 1998, finalized a series of land exchanges between the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and the United States. SITLA, the entity responsible for the administration of Utah’s school trust lands, received a package including 119,296 acres of federal land, 31,952 additional acres of mineral interests, and a lump sum payment of $50 million in exchange for 362,992 acres of Utah state lands and 90,423 additional acres of mineral rights, including 177,312 acres of land and 23,521 acres of mineral rights within Grand Staircase-Escalante. The exchange was completed by January 9, 1999, and increased the size of the monument to 2.1 million acres. Between FY1999-2017, SITLA generated an estimated $136.6 million – $131.5 million from mineral revenue and $5.1 million from surface activities – from the land acquired through this exchange.

The Automobile National Heritage Area Act (P.L. 105-355), signed into law on November 6, 1998, included a boundary adjustment and land conveyance for GSENM. At the request of residents, Congress altered the boundary to remove the towns of Henrieville, Cannonville, Tropic, Boulder and East Clark Bench from the monument. The law also authorized the conveyance of a parcel of federal land for school uses in the town of Tropic and conveyed land to be included in Kodachrome Basin State Park. During committee hearings on H.R. 4287, the Bureau of Land Management testified that it felt these changes and adjustments were not needed, but that a new era of cooperation had begun on lands in Utah and in the spirit of cooperation the BLM would support the recommended changes.

On November 29, 1999, P.L. 106-113, authorized $19.5 million for the BLM to acquire mineral rights within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Andalex Resources, Inc., a subsidiary of Murray Energy Company, received $14 million and PacifCorp received $5.5 in exchange for mineral rights within the boundary of the monument.

The Omnibus Parks Technical Corrections Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-176), authorized an additional conveyance of federal land to the town of Tropic for school purposes.

Despite claims about the illegality of the initial designation, several challenges have been tossed out by judges and failed in court.

In the 1998 case State of Utah et al. v. Babbitt, plaintiffs filed suit on grounds that a wilderness inventory violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the U.S. Constitution. The case was dismissed on appeal.

In 2004, Judge Dee Benson of the U.S. Federal District Court in Salt Lake City dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Utah Association of Counties against the designation.  The organization filed suit against President Clinton alleging that designation violated the Antiquities Act (16 U.S.C. § 431) by failing to designate the significant objects of historic or scientific value and limiting the size of the monument to the “smallest area” necessary to preserve the objects.  In a lengthy ruling, Judge Benson dismissed all of the claims.

An appeal was dismissed in 2006 by the Tenth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

With President Trump’s expected action, it will once again be up to a judge to determine if a President has acted within the confines of the law. 

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