Trump's declaration sets the stage for a court battle over presidential authority to rescind the boundaries of a national monument. Legal scholars assert that neither the Antiquities Act nor the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act allow such striking changes to national monuments by a president. That authority, they assert, rests solely with Congress.
The Inter Tribal Coalition, a Native American group, said it would file a lawsuit immediately to protect Bears Ears. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing manufacturer, is joining Friends of Cedar Mesa, Utah Dine Bikeyah and Archaeology Southwest in a Bears Ears suit to be filed later this week.
Ten national and regional environmental groups said they were filing a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington to protect Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
"The president lacks the authority under the Antiquities Act to repeal national monuments like he tried today," said Steve Bloch, the legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, an environmental group in Salt Lake City. "We argue that when Congress passed the Antiquities Act it delegated to the president the authority to establish national monuments, not to repeal or rescind them. The president is trying to take more authority than Congress has granted him."
One of the motivations for changing the boundaries is improving access to coal, oil, natural gas and uranium.
An analysis by Bloch's group of the potential for resource development found that revoking the original boundaries and establishing smaller monuments opens Grand Staircase-Escalante's coal reserves to development. Uranium and oil and gas reserves become much easier beyond the boundaries of the much smaller Bears Ears monument.
The president acted at the urging of Utah's Republican congressional delegation, which resisted the decisions by Presidents Clinton and Obama to establish the two monuments. Utah's lawmakers insist that the two Democrats overreached in establishing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante by not adequately considering the views of state residents. The Obama administration disputed that characterization, arguing that it held many public meetings and invited public comment.
Public opinion surveys have consistently found that Utah residents are about evenly divided on whether to shrink or maintain the existing boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
"This is unprecedented -- and it's illegal," said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement. "Presidents use the Antiquities Act to create national monuments and protect our special lands and waters for future generations. This president thinks he can use it to destroy them. He does not have that authority. What's next, President Trump -- the Grand Canyon? See you in court."
In April, Trump signed an executive order that directed the Interior Department to review 27 monuments established since 1996. The department received nearly 3 million comments. Most expressed support for keeping national monument boundaries and management practices intact.
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