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President’s abuse of authority strips protections from iconic dinosaur wonderland in Utah and undermines 1906 Antiquities Act
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 4, 2017
Contact: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (801.428.3981 or 801.859.1552 (cell))
Washington, DC —Hours after President Donald Trump issued a proclamation taking an axe to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, conservation organizations filed a lawsuit attacking the order as an abuse of the president’s power. Earthjustice is representing eight organizations in a suit charging that the president violated the 1906 Antiquities Act by stripping monument protections from this national treasure: The Wilderness Society, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council are co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit and represented by in-house counsel.
“President Trump has perpetrated a terrible violation of America’s public lands and heritage by going after this dinosaur treasure trove,” said Heidi McIntosh, Managing Attorney in Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountains office. “While past presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect unique lands and cultural sites in America, Trump is instead mangling the law, opening this national monument to coal mining instead of protecting its scientific, historic, and wild heritage. We will not let this stand. We will use the power of the law to stop Trump’s illegal actions.”
“Americans from across the nation should be outraged by President Trump’s unlawful attempt to eviscerate the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, one of our country’s wildest and most scientifically significant federal public landscapes,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Utah’s largest conservation organization. “No one will look back on this decision in 15, 25 or 50 years and say Trump did the right thing by protecting less of this magnificent place. And by promoting this illegal act, Utah’s parochial congressional delegation and local politicians have firmly come down on the wrong side of history.”
The Grand Staircase-Escalante contains dinosaur fossils found nowhere else in the world. Since its designation, 21 new dinosaur species have been unearthed by scientists in the monument, leading some to call these lands a “Dinosaur Shangri-la,” and a “geologic wonderland.” Grand Staircase holds one of the richest collections of fossils from the Late Cretaceous Period, which gives scientists and the public alike an unparalleled window into the dinosaurs that lived in these lands 10 million years ago. In mid-October, scientists airlifted one of the most complete tyrannosaur skeletons ever found out of Grand Staircase. These fossils are largely found in the Kaiparowits Plateau, where the coal industry has long coveted access for coal mining that would wreak havoc on this dinosaur treasure trove that belongs to the American people.
“I’m a resident of Kanab, and there are a lot of local businesses that are completely dependent on tourism related to Grand Staircase-Escalante,” said Laura Welp of Western Watersheds Project, and a former BLM botanist at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. “The entire ‘staircase’ of spectacular geological layers, with its world-class fossil resources, deserves to be protected intact from the threat of coal mining and other types of commercial exploitation.”
President Trump’s executive order to revoke and replace Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument came on the heels of a review conducted by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Over 2.7 million Americans roared their support for national monuments across the country, and public participation in the comment period was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping these public lands and waters protected just as they are.
“President Trump is attempting an unauthorized remodel of the Grand Staircase, knocking out not only geologic steps but cornerstones of the evolution of species, human history, and our cultural heritage as well,” said Tim Peterson, Utah Wildlands Program Director with the Grand Canyon Trust. “We’ve spent 20 years working to preserve Grand Staircase, and now we’re asking the courts to help us reconstruct what was torn down today.”
“The Trump administration’s effort to sell out our public lands is deeply unpopular and goes against American values,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “We will work to ensure our lands and waters remain open to the public and protected for future generations to explore and enjoy.”
“For more than two decades, through Democratic and Republican Administrations alike, we have worked with the BLM, paleontologists, local landowners, ranchers and business owners to ensure the monument’s resources are protected,” said Nada Culver, Senior Counsel for The Wilderness Society. “This unlawful, short-sighted action by President Trump is an affront to that collaborative work happening and to the benefits the monument provides to research, the local economy, and all Americans.”
“Despite the call for public comments, Trump never cared that we, the public, wanted him to keep his hands off our monuments,” said Chris Krupp, Public Earth Guardian at WildEarth Guardians. “He’s not concerned with those of us that camp, hike, fish and hunt. He’d rather give another handout to oil, gas and coal companies.”
President Bill Clinton protected the lands of Grand Staircase as a national monument on September 18, 1996 using the Antiquities Act, a century-old law that has been used by 16 presidents since Theodore Roosevelt to protect some of our nation’s most cherished landscapes and cultural heritage. Congress enacted the law in 1906, granting presidents the authority to create national monuments on federal lands to protect significant natural, cultural, historic or scientific features. The Antiquities Act does not, however, grant presidents the authority to diminish or rescind the monument designations of their predecessors.
“Grand Staircase is a cradle of biodiversity and losing even an acre would be a crime,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Scientists have identified nearly four dozen new species of butterflies here. We must protect this monument’s wildlife, stunning landscapes and cultural treasures for future generations. Trump and the fossil-fuel industry have picked the wrong battle.”
“If the Trump administration thinks Grand Staircase-Escalante can be sold out without a fight, they’re in for a huge surprise,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. “We’ll be seeing them in court.”
“The Trump administration has ignored overwhelming support for the monument. It’s a punch in the face to local businesses who support it, and all of us who treasure it,” said Shelley Silbert, Executive Director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “Our organization got its start in the Escalante Canyons nearly three decades ago and we’ve worked tirelessly for proper management of the national monument since its designation. We will fight this illegal action to take any portion of this monument away from the American people.”
After President Clinton designated Grand Staircase, an intricate land swap between the state and federal government was completed. Congress passed legislation modifying the monument’s boundaries in 1998 and then approved a land swap in which the state of Utah received 145,000 acres of mineral-rich federal lands and $50 million from the federal treasury. That $50 million has since gone to support Utah’s public schools, and the swap would be incredibly difficult to unravel. The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration established the Land Exchange Distribution Account to dole out the proceeds from these state-federal trades. At least 27 Utah counties have since received a total of $441 million.
Grand Staircase-Escalante has proven a tourism and economic boon for Southern Utah since its designation. Between 2001 and 2015, the population in the two counties bordering Grand Staircase grew by 13 percent, jobs increased 24 percent and real personal income grew 32 percent. Travel and tourism boomed in the region, offering 1,630 jobs around Grand Staircase. In the big picture, recreation from adventure-seekers, hikers, amateur geologists and families simply getting outdoors now funnels more than $12 billion into Utah’s economy.
Resources for reporters:
Read the legal document for our lawsuit filed with the United States District Court in Washington, D.C.
Earthjustice materials: “Utah may be trading a dinosaur wonder for a coal mine” and “Trading fossils for fossil fuels at Grand Staircase-Escalante” video
Headwaters Economics: Summary of the local economic benefits of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and economic report “The Value of Public Lands”
More on the Antiquities Act:
When President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906, he established a legal framework for the protection of national treasures. The law gives presidents the power to designate monuments on federal lands and waters—an authority granted by Congress that has for more than a century protected landscapes of extraordinary cultural, scientific and ecological value.
The Antiquities Act has been used more than 150 times by presidents of both parties.
Every president since 1906—with the exception of Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush—has used the Antiquities Act to protect iconic places. The law has also been used to protect cultural heritage sites—from Stonewall to Birmingham to Cesar Chavez’s family home—that tell the more complete story of our nation.
The Congressional Research Service has found that the Antiquities Act does not authorize the President to repeal national monument designations. Only Congress has that authority. Numerous legal scholars have reached the same conclusion.
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A new Utah poll demonstrates, again, that while bold conservation is often controversial at inception, it becomes appreciated with time. But Utah’s politicians still haven’t learned. When significant landscapes are protected by executive orders, they pull the Chicken Little routine and shake their fists at the sky. History proves them wrong every time.
And it’s happening all over again.
A new Dan Jones poll shows Utahns 2-1 oppose Utah politicians’ efforts to break apart the Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument. Twenty years ago, President Clinton was hung in effigy in Escalante for establishing the monument. Today, local businesses there and in Boulder are pleading with the Trump administration to leave it intact.
As we’d expect, the poll shows less support for the nascent Bears Ears National Monument. This is probably due to the steady outpouring of flagrantly false claims made by Senator Hatch, Representative Bishop and others that the monument will somehow devastate local economies and harm school kids. Still, only half of Utahns have bought into the lies so far as to favor reducing the monument.
Given time, the majority of Utahns will solidly celebrate Bears Ears as they do the Grand Staircase.
And of course, these lands belong to all Americans, not just those of us living here in Utah.
These protections are good for America. There is no serious argument that we’d be better off today if the Grand Staircase-Escalante had been sacrificed to a coal mine—especially as the view from the Kaiparowits Plateau (where the coal diggers wanted to dig) already includes the 800-foot-tall smokestacks at the Navajo Generating Station, set to close in two years because burning coal is no longer economic.
President Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument for the Tribes who have lived and used these lands since time immemorial, and it will be a great injustice if it is undone. Utah politicians will go down as standing far on the wrong side of history.
Every time Americans have chosen to protect western landscapes, the decision has been recognized as wise, with the perspective of time, by citizens living both far from and near the affected lands. This week’s poll confirms that, again. Will Utah’s politicians ever learn?
The House Natural Resources Committee has advanced H.R. 3990, a disgraceful bill that would essentially gut the Antiquities Act. The full committee mark-up also effectively killed a Democratic request for more transparency in Zinke’s monument review process.
H.R. 3990, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), would so severely limit a president’s power to designate new monuments that had it been in the original language of the law, Utah would not have four of its five national parks and seven of its eight national monuments today—places like Arches, Zion, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears. It would limit the size of new monuments to 85,000 acres and require approval from local and state lawmakers and governors. A president would still be able to designate a monument in an emergency situation, but the designation would expire within a year without congressional action.
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), lead sponsor of the House version of the Red Rock bill, called HR 3990 a “blatant attempt to dismantle the Antiquities Act.” He spoke of the direct threat this bill poses to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, and to all of Utah’s red rock country: “The stunning red rock canyons, protected by the Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments . . . all of these natural features would be threatened by this bill.”
Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA) noted: “There is something good about this bill, and that is that it points out that the president has no authority to unilaterally shrink or undesignate a national monument under current law. This admission is useful because the president may soon try to invoke that nonexistent power to the lasting detriment of our country.”
The bill passed out of committee on party lines, 23-17.
The champions standing up for the Antiquites Act and our public lands who voted against this terrible bill were:
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-CNMI), Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Rep. Donald Beyer (D-VA), Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD), Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), and Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA)
If your member of Congress is listed above, please call them and thank them at 202-224-3121
Conversely, the members of Congress who voted to gut the Antiquities Act are:
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), Rep. Don Young (R-AK), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM), Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Rep Scott Tipton (R-CO), Rep Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA), Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), Rep. Amata Radewagen (R-AS), Rep. Darin LaHood (R- IL), Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI), Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR), and Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT)
If your member of Congress is listed above, please call them and register your disappointment at 202-224-3121.
After the vote on HR 3990, H. Res. 555 was submitted to the mark up. H. Res. 555, introduced by Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ) and 25 other House Democrats, was an attempt to force a formal disclosure of Secretary Zinke’s monument review and gain transparency on the process of its creation. This resolution of inquiry, introduced a week ago, is likely what prompted the Antiquities Act overhaul to be unveiled.
The resolution was passed out of committee, but was reported “unfavorably,” effectively killing the measure.
This bill is a disaster, but just because it passed out of the committee doesn’t mean it will become law. To help us make sure it doesn’t, please call your representatives and let them know you oppose H.R. 3990 and any similar effort to gut the Antiquities Act! 202-224-3121
Today we learned Rep. Rob Bishop is putting forward legislation that would put size and qualification limits on monuments that can be designated under the Antiquities Act, eliminating “natural or geologic features” as objects deserving of protection, and giving the president unprecedented authority to shrink monuments.
“By putting forth this legislation, Congressman Bishop has conceded that President Trump currently has no authority to shrink national monuments,” said Jen Ujifusa, legislative director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “If the rules proposed in this bill would have been in place in the original Antiquities Act, Americans would not be lucky enough to have Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon or Capitol Reef National Parks today—all of which were first protected as national monuments. This is another extreme attack against our public lands from the very congressional delegation that should instead be taking pride in protecting them.”
Labor Day commemorates the social and economic achievements of American workers. This century-old tradition began in the spirit of protest from laborers fighting for fair wages, better working conditions, and a 40-hour work week.
These days we get to celebrate this tradition in the spirit of leisure, often by spending time in public lands across America on Labor Day weekend.
SUWA supporters and members nationally have worked for decades to protect America’s redrock public lands. Amid the ongoing attack on national monuments, you’ve taken a stand. You’ve showed up at rallies, met with your legislators, called public officials, written to local newspapers, and volunteered countless hours to conserve public land in Utah for all.
This hard work to save our national monuments was largely ignored by Interior Secretary Zinke in his recent report to the president recommending that Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments be reduced. So this Labor Day weekend, let’s make ourselves visible. If your plans take you to public lands anywhere, capture photos of your adventures and let the pictures do the talking.
Demonstrate your support for the irreplaceable treasures protected in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments by posting your weekend images on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. If Interior Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration can’t hear the nation’s call for the complete preservation of national monuments in Utah, this is a proactive way to show them.
Join us in the national movement to preserve monuments in Utah by sharing your public land images on social media, commenting on your support for public lands in Utah, and using the hashtags:
#SaveGrandStaircase | #ProtectBearsEars | #MonumentsForAll
#ProtectWildUtah | #LaborDay
Tag SUWA, Interior Secretary Zinke, and the President of the United States to assure you are seen:
Please wordsmith your own post using the hashtags and profile tags above.
We wish you fun adventures on this holiday weekend, and thank you for your active support of wild Utah.