Cristina Harmon: Monumental concerns
June 22, 2017
On June 12, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released his recommendations for Bears Ears National Monument in Utah as part of a 15-day review of that new monument and a 60-day review of 27 monuments nationwide.
Despite 96 percent of comments received by June 24 supporting the monument designation, Zinke recommended the 1.3 million-acre monument be reduced in size to small areas of the significant artifacts and archeological sites and recommended that Congress determine how the monument should be managed. This could open many significant archeological sites and beautiful landscapes to development, and it's a slap in the face of Native American tribes who came together to support and to manage the new monument. But more importantly, these recommendations could endanger all our monuments.
Zinke's recommendations could be a significant blow to the 111-year-old Antiquities Act, which has been used by presidents since Theodore Roosevelt to preserve such precious gems as the Grand Canyon, Craters of the Moon, Dinosaur National Monument, Canyon of the Ancients and Bears Ears National Monument.
Whether a monument, once designated, can be altered is untested. No U.S. president has ever tried to modify or eliminate a national monument except Franklin D Roosevelt who wanted to eliminate a South Carolina monument but was told he did not have the power. It remains to be seen if the courts and current attorney general would hold to that.
Some opinions over the years hold that only Congress has the power to rollback a monument decree. If that is the case, then the Antiquities Act and all our National Monuments are at risk if a presidential decree can be cancelled and removed at will by Congress.
Last week, Zinke said his goal is to boost drilling and mining on America's protected public lands and to make the U.S. not just energy independent, but energy "dominant.” For the sake of the economy, he would like to open National Monuments, as well as the surrounding lands, for drilling and mining. This runs counter to global reductions in coal and oil consumption and threatens preservation our public lands for future generations.
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National Monuments that protect cultural, historic, archeological and ecologically significant areas are to be sacrificed for profit. This is bad news, indeed.
The good news is we now have until July 10 to comment on the review of the 27 National Monuments, including Bears Ears. Comments may be submitted at http://www.regulations.gov by entering DOI-2017-0002 in the search bar and clicking search or by mail to Monument Reviews, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240. You may also call the Department of the Interior at 202-208-7351.