ST. GEORGE – In the wake of President Barrack Obama’s designating the Bears Ears National Monument Wednesday, Utah officials have vowed to use every means open to them to see the new monument undone. They are also looking to the next resident of the White House as a hopeful ally in this endeavor.
During a gathering held Thursday in San Juan County protesting the new monument, many signs with the phrase “Trump this Monument” were displayed and held high. Speakers at the event also repeated the phrase as they appealed to President-elect Donald Trump to aid in dismantling the unwanted monument.
Views differ on whether or not Trump can actually undo the creation of the monument once in office.
Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the Antiquities Act that allows a president to create monuments does not give a president authority to undo a designation, a rule the courts have upheld. She acknowledged, though, that Congress could take action.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the president “to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments.”
The Act was approved by Congress and used by then President Theodore Roosevelt to create the Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming in 1906.
In Obama’s statement regarding the creation of the 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument, the president said it is “to protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archaeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes.”
As reported by the Deseret News, Goldfuss told reporters the Obama administration isn’t worried about the backlash out of Utah and believes attempts to undo the new monument will be unsuccessful.
However, Conn Carroll, communications director for Sen. Mike Lee, told St. George News Thursday: “What has been done by executive power can be undone by executive power.”
While the Act may not expressly allow a president to simply undo a monument designation, it does empower the president the ability to make “modifications,” Carroll said.
“There’s nothing in the act that mandates or controls how much (a monument) can be changed,” he said.
If Trump wanted to, Carroll said, he could change the size of the Bear Ears Monument and shrink it considerably. Once done, Congress could come in and pass Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative which would protect part of Bears Ears as a national conservation area while opening other parts to local and economic development.
“That would functionally undo 99.9 percent of what Obama did,” Carroll said.
Taking this route is a potential way Lee and other Utah delegates hope to work with the incoming administration to undo the national monument.
“We’re optimistic that the Trump administration will do the right thing and honor the wishes of the people of Utah,” Carroll said. “This monument is on sand. It’s very precarious and we should be optimistic it can be functionally undone.”
Other avenues Utah’s leaders and congressional delegation are likely to pursue moving forward include possible legislation and litigation.
Stewart has stated that he will use his position on the House Appropriations Committee to block funding to the new monument.
Sen. Orrin Hatch said Wednesday that he will meet with Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, Trump’s nominee for interior secretary, and discuss what may be done about reversing the monument designation.
“His responses will largely determine my support for his confirmation,” Hatch said.
In addition, Hatch and Lee will reintroduce legislation to make Utah exempt from future presidents’ use of the Antiquities Act to designate monuments. It would be similar to legislation passed in 1950 exempting Wyoming from the Antiquities Act and place the creation of any new monument in the hands of Congress.
There has also been talk among the congressional delegation of either seeking to repeal the Antiques Act or greatly restricting its use in the future.
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On Thursday, Chaffetz, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent subpoenas to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Goldfuss demanding a document dump related to the Bears Ear National Monument designation going back to 2013.
In the letters, Chaffetz states concerns that the Obama administration stepped over federal procedures involving local stakeholders and proper environmental assessment.
“(Obama’s) sweeping application of the Antiquities Act raises questions about the administration’s commitment to transparency and consultation with local stakeholders with respect to designating national monuments,” Chaffetz wrote.
He continued: “… The (National Environmental Policy Act) and (Federal Land Policy Management Act) processes provide for a more thoughtful determination, whereas the Antiquities Act was meant to be reserved for emergency scenarios.”
Previous attempts by the Oversight Committee to obtain information regarding the Obama administration’s process for using the Antiquities Act have thus far met with a limited response, Chaffetz wrote.
Jewell and Goldfuss have till Jan. 13, 2017, to produce the requested documents. Failure to do so will result in the committee’s “obtaining them through compulsory measures,” the letters state.
On the state level, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said his office has been working with members of the congressional delegation as well as county and state officials on a pending lawsuit in case the monument designation happened.
“The Antiquities Act was passed to protect archaeological sites from pillage by treasure hunters with narrow, focused designations of thousands of acres or only what was absolutely necessary,” Reyes said in a statement released Wednesday. “It has turned into a tool for the Executive Branch to bypass proper Congressional authority, to designate millions of acres at a time and far beyond what is necessary to preserve sacred sites.
“Rather than shut out local residents, the Administration should look for ways to strengthen schools, pave roads, and build the local economy. Instead, it rides roughshod over repeatedly expressed local concerns and exceeds the law’s scope as intended by Congress when it passed the Antiquities Act over a century ago.”
It remains to be seen what course the brewing war over Utah’s newest national monument may take once the president-elect takes office next month.
Associated Press writer Brady McCombs contributed to this report.
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