Trump undercuts Obama, Clinton legacies in withdrawal of Utah wilderness protections

Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

President Donald Trump's removal of federal protections from huge portions of two national monuments in southern Utah on Monday threatens to undercut the wilderness-conservation legacies of his Democratic predecessors Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Whether Trump has the legal authority to withdraw 1.1 million acres of land from Bears Ears National Monument and 800,000 acres from nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante will soon be tested in court.

Supporters of the monuments, which cover vast stretches of Utah's scenic red-rock country, are preparing lawsuits to block Trump from shrinking them.

But Trump's drive to open wilderness to oil, gas, coal and mineral extraction, among other things, is already one of his most significant environmental legacies, along with his wholesale scrapping of Obama policies to address climate change.

Q: How can a president unilaterally shrink a national monument?

A: The 1906 Antiquities Act empowers the president to establish national monuments by proclamation to protect landmarks and objects of historic or scientific interest. (Creation of a national park requires congressional approval.)


The naming of national monuments has become one of the most visible ways for presidents to establish a permanent legacy. Obama created Bears Ears in December 2016, a few weeks before the end of his presidency. Clinton named Grand Staircase-Escalante as a national monument in September 1996, seven weeks before his re-election.

The Antiquities Act says nothing about whether presidents have the power to revoke national monument designations of their predecessors.

Previous presidents have reduced the size of national monuments, but never on the scale that Trump did in Utah, and courts have never ruled on the legality of those cuts.

Q: How much land did Trump withdraw from national monuments in Utah?


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