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Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument's boundaries were reduced by about 47 percent after the Interior Department's review last year. (Photo: Bureau of Land Managment/Flickr/cc)

There You Have It: Emails Confirm Coal, Oil, and Gas Extraction Drove Shrinking of National Monuments

"The evidence of just how embedded Trump and Zinke are with the dirty energy of the past could not be clearer."

Julia Conley

Interior Department emails that came to light on Friday confirm that protecting companies' ability to mine oil, gas, and coal was a primary concern as the agency moved to shrink two national monuments in Utah last year.

"We've long known that Trump and Zinke put polluter profits ahead of our clean air, clean water, public health, and coastal economies. This is more proof," Alex Taurel of the League of Conservation Voters said in a statement. "On Zinke's one year anniversary as secretary, the evidence of just how embedded Trump and Zinke are with the dirty energy of the past could not be clearer."

Thousands of pages of correspondence and documents, uncovered by a lawsuit filed by the New York Times against the department after it failed to comply with an open records request for the materials, show that Interior staffers compiled estimates of how many coal reserves were located in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as the agency was reconsidering the protected land's boundaries.

"The Kaiparowits plateau, located within the monument, contains one of the largest coal deposits in the United States," wrote Interior officials in a memo last spring. About 11.36 billion tons of coal were "technologically recoverable," if the plateau lost the government's protection, according to the memo.

After Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's review of the boundaries concluded in August, Grand Staircase-Escalante was shrunk by about 47 percent.

Another document showed officials asking staffers to compile information on "annual production of coal, oil, gas, and renewables (if any) on site [and] amount of energy transmission infrastructure on site (if any)" and to examine how President Barack Obama's decision to create Utah's national monuments had prevented mining in the area.

Bears Ears National Monument was the subject of an email from an aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to the Interior Department in March 2017, about a month before Zinke began his review.

"Please see attached for a shapefile and pdf of a map depicting a boundary change for the southeast portion of the Bears Ears monument," wrote the aide. "The new boundary depicted on the map would resolve all known mineral conflicts" for the state, which wanted to lease out the land to natural gas and oil companies for extraction.

The boundary change proposed by Hatch's office was included in the Interior Department's shrinking of Bears Ears, which was reduced in size by about 85 percent in December.

A uranium mining company also met with top Interior officials during the review to discuss uranium mills near Bears Ears, and agency staffers were directed to assess how much timber and grass for cattle had been swept up in the Obama administration's protection of the land.

Journalists who had reported on the Trump administration's decision to shrink the monuments posted about the New York Times' revelation on Friday, with one CNN reporter noting that agency officials had blatantly misrepresented the reasons for changing the boundaries last year.

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