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Confirming True Intentions Behind Attack on National Monuments, Trump Plan Kicks Open the Gate for 'Mining, Logging, and Drilling'

Conservationists say courts should rule on monument reductions before the administration can "open up stolen land to corporate land barons and sell off our protected lands to the highest bidder."

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Last December, President Donald Trump dramatically scaled back Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management/Flickr/cc)

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Wednesday unveiled draft plans to enable widespread fossil fuel extraction and other destructive practices on about a million acres of public lands in Utah, underscoring President Donald Trump's intentions behind his attack on a pair of national monuments designated by his Democratic predecessors.

"These people will stop at nothing to destroy our most beautiful places."
—Jamie Henn, 350.org co-founder
Ignoring protests from local tribes, indigenous rights groups, and environmental advocates, last December Trump signed executive orders slashing Bears Ears by nearly 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante by about half. In March, as Common Dreams reported, Interior Department emails uncovered by a public records lawsuit confirmed "that protecting companies' ability to mine oil, gas, and coal was a primary concern" as the administration plotted to carve out the monuments.

Environmental and indigenous groups—which are fighting Trump's executive orders in court—quickly denounced BLM's "preferred" industry-friendly plans released Wednesday, which cover 200,000 acres that remain in Bears Ears and more than 880,000 acres stripped away from Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Legal Director Stephen Bloch noted that the BLM's plans for Grand Staircase-Escalante "would open this remarkable place to new oil and gas leasing, mining, and off-road vehicle damage."

The Bears Ears plans, Bloch said, "is equally bad, prioritizing consumptive uses such as grazing and logging, and failing to protect cultural resources and wilderness-quality lands."

Western Values Project executive director Chris Saeger declared, "We know that both these monument reductions were made at the behest of the same special interests and extractive corporations that brought the Trump administration into office." 

"The administration should wait for legal challenges to the reductions to have their day in court," Saeger asserted, before moving forward with any plans "to open up stolen land to corporate land barons and sell off our protected lands to the highest bidder."

In addition to fossil fuel extraction, the Grand Staircase-Escalante plans reveal that the administration may sell off more than 1,600 acres of federal land, which the Huffington Post described as a significant departure from past promises:

The proposed land transfer is notable considering Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have repeatedly said they oppose selling off federal lands. In fact, it was over this very issue that Zinke—a former Montana congressman—resigned as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2016. In a speech one day after arriving at his new post, Zinke made a promise to Interior Department staff: "You can hear it from my lips: We will not sell or transfer public land."

Considering that one 120-acre parcel the BLM "identified for disposal" is adjacent to property owned by Utah state Rep. Mike Noel—a Republican and longtime critic of the monument—Center for Western Priorities executive director Jennifer Rokala told HuffPost the proposal "looks like an egregious attempt to sell public land for the benefit of one of Secretary Zinke's Utah cronies."

BLM's plans for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will be open for public comment from Aug. 17 to Nov. 15.

In a blog post, Center for Western Priorities advocacy director Jesse Prentice-Dunn declared, "This request for public input is a sham," noting that "when the administration asked Americans whether they should alter national monuments during a comment period last year, more than 2.8 million—more than 99 percent of comments submitted —asked them to leave our national monuments alone."

"Just as it has all along, this Interior Department will ignore Americans who want to see these monumental landscapes protected, and bulldoze its way forward with plans to throw open the gates for more mining, logging, and drilling," Prentice-Dunn concluded. "Luckily, the courts will have the ultimate say."

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