President Trump on Wednesday ordered the Interior Department to review national monument designations dating back 20 years for millions of acres of land, arguing former presidents have “abused” the system and vowing to return such authority to citizens and state lawmakers.
“Today, we are giving power back to the states and people where it belongs,” Trump said in signing the executive order at the Interior Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. “This massive federal land grab; it’s gotten worse and worse.”
The order has already sparked a sharp response from the Sierra Club and other environmentalist groups that are concerned about any possible changes ending the protections and allowing use of the land for oil or gas drilling.
“America’s parks and public lands are not in need of corporate restructuring,” the Sierra Club said. “We should not be asking which parts of our history and heritage we can eliminate, but instead how we can make our outdoors reflect the full American story.”
At issue is the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives presidents authority to protect land.
Trump said the law also gives the federal government “unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water” and that it has been used on hundreds of millions of acres.
He vowed to "end these abuses."
The executive order targets protections from the past three presidents including two spots in Utah: former President Barack Obama’s designation of the 1.35 million-acre Bear Ears National Monument in Utah and former President Bill Clinton’s designation in 1996 of the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said before the signing: “Let me be clear, this executive order does not reverse any monument designation.”
The 111-year-old act grants presidents the authority to create national monuments from federal land to protect its historic, cultural and scientific significance, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld such changes.
However, Congress has twice limited presidential powers under the act, requiring congressional consent on some future proclamations.
The executive order was created at the urging of Sen. Orrin Hatch and other members of Utah’s Republican congressional delegation.
“When President Obama designated the Bears Ears monument in December, he did so ignoring the voices of Utah leaders who were united in opposition, and even more importantly, ignoring the voices of the local Utahns most affected by this massive land grab,” Hatch said last week while visiting the site.
Among those attending the signing ceremony were Hatch, fellow Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee and Vice President Pence.