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Trump slashes size of protected areas in Utah

04 Dec 2017 20:55 GMT
Trump slashes size of protected areas in Utah

Washington, 4 December (Argus) — President Donald Trump has removed about 2mn acres of federal land in Utah from protective national monument status in areas environmentalists say would become targets for drilling and coal mining.

Trump today reduced the size of the 1.4mn-acre Bears Ears National Monument by 85pc and halved the size of the nearby 2mn-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Trump said past presidents "severely abused" their authority to create monuments and had set aside far more land for protected status than was necessary under the law.

"Those abuses under the Antiquities Act gave enormous power to far-away bureaucrats at the expense of people who live here, work here and make this place home," Trump said in remarks today at the Utah State Capitol building.

Former president Barack Obama created the Bears Ears monument in late 2016, providing protected status for an area that Native American tribes consider sacred. Former president Bill Clinton created the Staircase-Escalante monument in 1996. The national monument status blocks oil and gas development, mining and other commercial development.

The US Interior Department, in an earlier leaked report, said the areas in the Staircase-Escalante monument contain "several billion tons of coal and large oil deposits." Environmentalists also say parts of Bears Ears are likely to become candidates for drilling because they have high oil and gas potential.

"Yet again the Trump administration has sold out the American people and our special places, all to benefit the fossil fuel elite," Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said.

US interior secretary Ryan Zinke today said the monument changes were not motivated by energy resources, but instead were intended to make the lands open public access, grazing, hunting, fishing and recreation. Environmentalists say the administration's push for "energy dominance" mean oil, gas and coal production on previously protected lands is likely. They plan to challenge Trump's actions in court.