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On Monday, President Trump flew to Utah for the biggest public lands announcement of his presidency.
Speaking in Salt Lake City, Trump announced that his administration is greatly scaling back the acreage of two national monuments in Utah, removing about 85 percent of the designation of Bears Ears National Monument and nearly 46 percent of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
“I don’t think it is controversial,” Trump told a crowd in Utah. “I think it’s so sensible.”
The decision to shrink the acreage of federal land protected by national monument designations under the 1906 Antiquities Act is many things to many people — to conservatives, the necessary revocation of federal overreach that inhibited cattle grazing and oil and gas drilling; to liberals, the demolition of needed environmental and cultural protections.
That makes Trump’s decision anything but uncontroversial.
From Reuters's Valerie Volcovici:
The Post's Brady Dennis:
“Both of these national monuments, as well as others that were under review by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, have broad public backing,” said Tom Wathen, a vice president at the independent nonprofit organization Pew Charitable Trusts, which works on environmental and other issues.
Wathen and other environmentalists point to the outpouring of comments made in support of the Obama administration’s national monument designations. In total, nearly 3 million were submitted to the Interior Department during a review of designations made by past administrations.
According to a study conducted by Key-Log Economics and funded by the Wilderness Society, 99.2 percent of comments expressed opposition to eliminating or weakening protections of national monuments.
Such comments, of course, give only a slice of the story, especially considering that all U.S. residents and not just Utahns submit filings during public comment periods. Within the Beehive State, public opinion is more divided.
According to a poll commissioned by the Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah, a slight majority, 51 percent, of state residents say Bears Ears is “too big” while 37 percent think it isn't, although environmental groups such as the Center for Western Priorities say the poll's wording is misleading.
What is happening in Utah is happening to Alaska, too. Although drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge proved to be an unpopular policy in November polling done by conservationists in eight Republican-held House districts in the Lower 48, Alaska’s congressional delegation says the state is sick and tired of outsiders telling the state not to drill.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) also thinks public opinion within Utah is overlooked by federal overseers. “I want to thank the president for giving a voice to the hard-working people of Utah, who for too long have been ignored in the debate over public lands,” he told a crowd before Trump’s speech.
There is more support in the state for keeping intact Grand Staircase-Escalante. Only 27 percent of Utahns said that national monument was too big, the same poll said.
When asked about national monuments more broadly, and not by name, westerners tend to be more supportive. In seven western states, including Utah, 80 percent of residents and 68 percent of Republicans support keeping existing national monument designations, according to Colorado College polling released this year.
Who supports Trump's decision? One group is the Utah congressional delegation. Hatch and Utah’s other five elected representatives in Washington, all Republicans, each fought against Obama’s original designations.
Even among Native Americans, whose cultural sites the Bears Ears designation was meant to protect, opinion appears to be divided. Shortly after Trump's announcement, the Navajo Nation sued to maintain the monument. But some of the tribe's local chapters rallied against Obama's original designation.
“I asked for the president’s help in fixing this disaster,” Hatch said Monday. “Without hesitation, he looked at me square in the eye and said we’ll fix it.”
That unanimous opposition appears to have made all the difference for Trump. Hatch raised the issue of the two Utah sites repeatedly with both the president and his eldest son, not just during the 2016 campaign but during his visit to the Oval Office on Trump’s fifth day in office, according to The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey and Juliet Eilperin.
Trump “really likes” Hatch, one White House official told The Post, especially after the passage of the tax bill in the Senate, where the senior senator from Utah chairs the Senate Finance Committee.
The fact that Trump presented his decision as without controversy underscores why congressional Republicans have gone to such lengths to keep the president’s ear.
“I call all of the friends I have in Utah,” Trump said on Monday, mentioning Hatch and Utah's other senator, Mike Lee. “I said, ‘Will this be good for our country and good for your state?’ They said, ‘This will be incredible for our country, will be incredible for Utah.’
“I also said, ‘Will it be at all controversial?’ They all told me no,” Trump added, to laughter from the audience.
Watch Trump's speech below:
And here's a map of the changes, via The Post's graphics team:
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-- Lawsuits start pouring in: Multiple environmental and conservation groups have filed suit against Trump and Ryan Zinke in federal court following the news from Utah.
The lawsuit from the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and seven other groups argue that Trump did not have the authority to shrink the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument, calling it an “unlawful” move that “exceeds his authority under the US Constitution and Antiquities Act," which they argue "authorizes Presidents to create national monuments; it does not authorize Presidents to abolish them either in whole or in part."
A group of Native American tribes also plans to sue the Trump administration over the change to the Bears Ears monument. “What the president has purported to do is outside the scope of his authority,” said Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch, per the Washington Examiner. "We think the law is clear."
The attorneys general of California, New Mexico and Washington, each with their own sizable national monuments, have pledged to defend them from shrinking, as well:
-- Climate science on trial: In what could be one of the first moves from the Trump administration in a legal faceoff over climate change, the Justice Department is meeting with climate scientists to grill them about how certain they are of their findings, E&E News reports.
The meetings with climate scientists, including some who have expressed skepticism over the extent of humans’ effect on climate change, may be an effort to establish a legal argument that climate change is not serious enough to require immediate government action, explains E&E News’s Scott Waldman.
Such conversations could come into play if a case brought by a group of 21 young people goes to trial. The plaintiffs in the case of Juliana v. the United States, which was first filed in 2015 against the Obama administration, say their constitutional rights have been violated by a lack of action from the government on the changing climate.
DOJ officials have recently met with Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist in the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science, and asked whether he would work on assembling government witnesses for the case. But Caldeira declined because he was “concerned that his work would be distorted for political means by the Trump administration,” per E&E.
Waldman wrote that Caldeira is also worried that if “reputable scientists don't participate in the case, the Justice Department could use contrarian researchers to weaken established science.”
-- Climate mitigation group shuttered: The Trump administration has terminated a group established under Obama to help cities deal with the effects of climate change and natural disaster. The chairman of the Community Resilience Panel for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems told members that a Monday meeting would be its last, Bloomberg News reported. The interagency panel was created in 2015 under the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology. It included representatives from the EPA, FEMA and other departments.
“It was one of the last federal bodies that openly talked about climate change in public," panel chairman Jesse Keenan told Bloomberg News in an email. “I can say that we tried our best and we never self-censored!”
The group worked with local officials on buildings, transportation, water and communications to better prepare for extreme weather events and climate change. A former EPA representative to the panel told Bloomberg the idea for the group followed Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
-- Pruitt vs. public records: The Environmental Integrity Project filed a lawsuit Monday alleging that the EPA failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for speeches that agency head Scott Pruitt gave to industry groups.
The group is looking for information about five dozen speeches Pruitt gave between late February and early November to groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute.
The complaint notes the group first submitted a FOIA request on Oct. 24.
-- Wildfire warning: Nearly two months after the deadly spate of wildfires raged across the northern part of the state, Southern California is preparing for what could be the most intense Santa Ana wind event of the season, which poses a risk for more wildfires.
Capital Weather Gang’s Angela Fritz reports there will be wind gusts going between 40 and 60 mph, with higher elevations seeing winds of upward of 80 mph.
“This will likely be the strongest and longest duration Santa Ana wind event we have seen so far this season,” the Weather Service wrote in a fire weather warning Monday. “If fire ignition occurs, there will be the potential for very rapid fire spread, long range spotting, and extreme fire behavior.”
It's already starting: A brush fire that started 65 miles from Los Angeles has reached the northern edge of Ventura, Calif., with 30,000 evacuation notices already ordered.
-- Bitcoin has an environmental impact. Who knew? Vox’s Umair Irfan has a good explainer about just how much energy is used to mine bitcoin. Mining the cryptocurrency, which only exists as a digital currency, “requires intense computational processing power, which demands a huge amount of electricity,” Irfan writes.
According to one estimate, mining bitcoin takes up more energy than 159 individual countries: Alex de Vries of Digiconomist reported last week that the energy used to mine bitcoin had reached 30.59 terawatt-hours, which Irfan says is “on par with the energy use of the entire country of Morocco, more than 19 European countries, and roughly 0.7 percent of total energy demand in the United States, equal to 2.8 million US households.”
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Timothy R. Petty to be Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science and Linda Capuano to be the administrator of the Energy Information Administration.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on various bills.
- Former vice president Al Gore hosts a 24-hour live broadcast about climate activism through The Climate Reality Project.
- The American Enterprise Institute holds an event on "Conservation programs, the waters of the United States, and the Renewable Fuel Standard" on Wednesday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans will hold a legislative hearing to review the extension of endangered fish recovery programs on Wednesday.
- The Senate Indian Affairs Committee holds a legislative hearing on Wednesday.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of R.D. James to be Assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works on Wednesday.
- The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight will hold a hearing on “Challenges Facing Superfund and Waste Cleanup Efforts Following Natural Disasters” on Wednesday.
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host the launch of OPEC’s World Oil Outlook 2017 on Thursday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands holds a legislative hearing on Thursday.
Watch President Trump's full speech in Utah:
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