Which politicians influenced Trump’s decision to reduce National Monument land in Utah? And what are they fighting for?
President Trump’s decision to historically reverse a National Monument designation was shocking to some of the American public, who saw the 85 percent reduction to be devastating and even illegal.
But this challenge to the Antiquities Act, a century-old law that permits executive action to protect national land, is long overdue in the minds of many Republican politicians in Utah, where roughly two-thirds of the state acreage is federally-owned.
Obama’s unilateral use of the Antiquities Act was seen as an intrusive executive action by many who had been lobbying, discussing, and even protesting the management of the southeastern Utah federally-owned land. The Bears Ears National Monument designation decisively protected large strokes of the region that many had been crafting policy around for years.
One such politician is Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who played a lead role in the review and reduction of Bears Ears under the Trump administration.
“I’m approving the Bears Ears recommendation for you, Orrin,” the president told Hatch in a phone call, according to the Senator’s office.
Hatch collaborated with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke as the Interior Department reviewed all national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act, and encouraged a reduction in the size of the monument boundaries to permit a diverse use of the federal land. Like many Utah Republican Representatives, he viewed the designation made by President Obama to be larger than neccessary.
“We believe in the importance of protecting these sacred antiquities, but Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration rolled up their sleeves to dig in, talk to locals, talk to local tribes and find a better way to do it,” Hatch said in a statement.
Hatch announced his retirement on Jan. 1, 2018. He joined the Senate in 1977 and had a role in longstanding legislation such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Americans with Disabilities Act.
— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) January 2, 2018
Jason Chaffetz, former Republican Congressman and Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, also recently chose to leave public office.
Before stepping down in June 2017, Chaffetz crafted several land rights bills and sponsored some in the House. One bill, which did not receive legislative approval, proposed the sale of 3 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
But from 2013 to 2016, Chaffetz worked on a piece of legislature that intended to protect the Bears Ears National Monument sacred sites and prevent further looting and destruction to Native American cultural artifacts.
This was the Utah Public Lands Initiative, which reorganized the ownership of 18 million acres in southern and eastern Utah. It proposed to shelter certain areas of wilderness with lasting protection, while opening other portions of the acreage to development and extraction.
In four Utah counties, the bill also would have given permitting authority related to energy development to the state government. It proposed to use the profit from future development on education in those counties.
Chaffetz’s co-sponsor on this Initiative was Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
“The bill will provide land-use certainty, proving that conservation and economic development can coexist to build a new future of prosperity for our children,” Bishop told the Salt Lake Tribune.
But, met with criticism from the environmentalists, the Public Lands Initiative did not move through the legislative process quickly enough to prevent Obama’s monument designation, which Chaffetz and others both expected and opposed.
It’s the intrusiveness of the federal government that is unrelenting,” Chaffetz said. “It feels like Washington, D.C., is coming into our backyard and altering people’s lives.”
It was this sentiment that led Hatch, Chaffetz, Bishop and Rep. Mike Lee (R., UT) to encourage President Trump to historically reverse the designation, reopen the possibility of land development and extraction, and challenge the Antiquities Act which impacts land conservation across the nation.
Chaffetz was replaced by Rep. John Curtis in a special election last summer, but not before he told Fox News that he left politics to “get off the crazy train.” Chaffetz later signed a contract with Fox News as an on-air contributor.