On April 26, President Trump signed an executive order that gave the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, the power to review protections of over 25 national monuments in order to roll them back in what is called the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act. It basically allows the government to reduce the size of protected lands in order to develop around them.
For many, it was hard to believe that Trump was doing the obvious, which was to lift those protections in order to allow energy companies to enter those previously protected sites and drill for resources. Those who have tried to convince us that Donald Trump was a far more complicated figure would have us believe that there was some sort of genius behind the man.
For thousands, even millions of years, humans have learned how to interpret the mannerisms of people like Trump. A person who exudes that image of the alpha male with all of his bluster. It wasn’t as if this President was going to roll back protections to — in some brilliant way — actually protect those areas. No, his intentions are plain to see and any effort to see it in any other way is simply intended to waste a lot of time.
It also didn’t take long for Zinke to “make a decision” which we and everyone else knew he was going to make. In June, Zinke proposed that the borders of Bears Ears be rolled back. Along with this, there’s no doubt that the Interior Secretary will be rolling back the borders of other national monuments but for now, Utah is the model. Also, since former President Barack Obama had designated 1.35-million-acres of Bears Ears a national monument as he was leaving office, the President has vowed to erase the Obama legacy.
For the time being, as we look at Utah as the state that the administration is targeting, his approval includes another national monument, the Grand Staircase Escalante. This too was designated a protected area in 1996 by one of Trump’s other enemies, President Bill Clinton. The Grand Staircase is larger than Bears Ears with its 1.8-million-acres. But the enabler of this effort is none other than Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch who the President called on Friday to let him know that he was approving Zinke’s recommendation to shrink the borders of both monuments.
Last year, President Obama used the 110-year-old Antiquities Act which was first signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, to put in those designations. With Republicans making every effort to obstruct everything that was coming out of the Obama White House during his two full terms, opposing his designation would just be another effort to obstruct. At the time, Utah Republicans — such as Orrin Hatch — opposed the designation and so Obama had to use the Antiquities Act to push through.
In Zinke’s assessment of the designation, he referred to protecting Bears Ears saying that the reasons to do so were around the Native American ceremonial sites there. The administration’s decision has already infuriated local tribes as well as advocacy groups who want those sites protected. Zinke and other Republicans, on the surface, are trying to be pragmatic about the decision, saying that the sites do still need to be protected but that too much of it prevents the use of that land for other purposes.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) triggered the debate on Republican loyalty to Trump, showing that Republicans would stand by the President no matter what he did. Even worse, is the fact that Republicans have been reluctant to push back against even the most controversial decisions from the President where Zinke would have to do exactly what Trump said if he still felt there were too many protections. So, this idea that this decision is pragmatic somehow, is deceptive.
Trump has made himself the defender of the coal industry from the beginning and with rolling back multiple regulations through the EPA and the Interior Department, it’s obvious that by lifting protections, he can help members of the energy industry to come in and drill for resources. As this horrific and nightmarish presidency continues, we’re seeing this become the reality more and more. And of course, those advocacy groups and tribes are not taking this sitting down, promising to sue the administration for their effort.