In office less than nine months, President Trump has gone a long way toward keeping his campaign promise of lifting the shackles the Obama administration used to subjugate the rubes in flyover country and anyone else who stood in the way of the ruling class’s plans to tighten its grip on the levers of power.
From withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accords to rolling back regulations specifically designed to destroy whole industries, e.g. coal, and the livelihoods that went along with them, Trump has rained on the parade of globalists and the cabal of bureaucrats, NGOs, and crony capitalists who have flourished under the unchecked power of the administrative regulatory state.
Where there have been setbacks, such as the failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, this can be laid at the feet of congressional Republicans who have shown themselves incapable of keeping a pledge they have been making for seven years.
Thus, it was disappointing that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s plans for dealing with national monuments created by previous administrations fell well short of what needs to be done to undo these abuses of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Zinke has proposed eliminating no monuments at all, modifying ten monuments, and narrowing the boundaries of six monuments: the 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears and the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase Escalante (both in Utah), the 98,000-acre Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon, and the nearly 300,000-acre Gold Butte in Nevada, as well as two marine monuments: Pacific Remote Islands and Ross Atoll.
It is easily forgotten that the original intent of the Antiquities Act was to protect archeological artifacts and sacred sites of Native Americans located on federal land from poaching and other unnatural disturbances. Indeed, the Antiquities Act calls for monuments to be limited to the “smallest area compatible” with protecting the site or object. It what is a complete distortion of the law’s original intent, monuments designations – whether on land or at sea – frequently involve thousands of square miles that are permanently off-limits to almost any form of economic activity.
“End Another Egregious Use of Federal Power”
In his Executive Order of April 25, President Trump pledged to “end another egregious use of federal power, and give that power back to the states and people where it belongs.” Trump recognized that it was a misuse of the Antiquities Act to “unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal law … eliminating the ability of the people who actually live in these states to decide how best to use the land.” The president instructed Secretary Zinke to “end these abuses and return control to the people, the people of Utah, the people of the states, the people of the United States.” Trump added: “This should never have happened.”
Many of today’s national monuments are de facto wilderness areas, where strict land- and sea-use controls are in place. But under the Wilderness Act of 1963, only Congress is authorized to create wilderness areas. Thus, the practice of previous administrations – beginning with Clinton and continuing through Bush and Obama – of designating vast swaths of territory as national monuments was done to circumvent the clear language of the Wilderness Act, and to create wilderness areas without the consent of elected state and local officials.
In keeping with the president’s pledge, the White House needs to be much bolder than the steps recommended by Secretary Zinke. By undertaking a dramatic break with the past, the administration can show its commitment to undo the injustices perpetrated in the name of establishing national monuments. As a first step, this would include:
- Rescinding the designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was carried out by the Clinton administration without the consent of state and local officials in Utah;
- Rescinding the designation of the Bears Ears Nation Monument whose boundaries far exceed the sites where archeological artifacts may be located and whose area, according to Utah Geological Survey reports, contains energy mineral resources estimated between $223 billion and $330 billion;
- Rescinding the designation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which was created on thousands of acres of land that had previously been privately owned – setting a terrible precedent – and which was vigorously opposed by Maine Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Legislature; and
- Rescinding the designation of the 4,913 square-mile Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument, a rich fishing ground from which commercial fishermen and lobstermen will be barred in accordance with the 2016 Obama designation.
Other national monuments should receive further scrutiny with a view toward their complete elimination or reduction in size to conform with the original intent of the Antiquities Act. In those cases where archeological and sacred sites warrant protection, this should be done by limiting the designation to the “smallest area compatible” with protecting the site.
Nationwide Coalition Letter to Trump
CFACT is one of over 15 organizations that have signed a nationwide coalition letter circulated by the National Center for Public Policy Research, urging the White House to take bolder action on curtailing national monuments.