THE LIGHTBULB

When President Trump reduced the size of Utah's Bears Ears National Monument by more than 1.1 million acres, his administration assured the public “important objects of scientific or historic interest” would still be protected.

Many areas the Trump administration removed from Bears Ears are rich in uranium and oil deposits and may eventually become more accessible to developers. They had been off-limits under Barack Obama's 2016 proclamation creating the monument.

And many sites significant to the Native American governments that lobbied Obama to designate the monument now lie outside the redrawn boundaries. 

“We knew exactly what was within that geographical boundary,” Shaun Chapoose, a tribal councilman for the Uncompahgre band of the Ute Tribe, told The Post's Joe Fox, Lauren Tierney, Seth Blanchard and Gabriel Florit. “We knew the gravesites, we knew where the artifacts were, we knew where certain plants and herbs grew.” 

That Post team, using drone footage and three-dimensional modeling, put together a visually stunning and seemingly encyclopedic list of the places left out of Trump's new boundaries.

Along the San Juan River, for example, an extensively etched cliff wall lies outside the redrawn lines. “The oldest drawings on this wall could date to 4000 BC, according to Sally Cole, an archaeologist who lives in Bluff, Utah. They help identify how society developed, from groups of hunter-gatherers to agrarian communities.”

The Abajo Mountains too, in the northeast portion of the Obama-era monument, were removed from the boundaries. Cliffside caves once provided shelter to the ancient Puebloans, to whom the Hopi and Zuni people trace their ancestry. "A thousand years ago, the Abajo Mountains harbored human life in every ravine and gully," the Post team writes.

Also excluded from the new monument boundaries is the Valley of the Gods, a desert valley "dotted with stone pillars that jut vertically out of the valley floor and rise straight upward for hundreds of feet." The sandstone valley was once home to the Clovis, a prehistoric people of the earliest inhabitants of North America who hunted now-extinct mammoths and giant sloths.

The courts still need to resolve the question of whether Trump's unraveling of his predecessor's proclamation, hailed by Utah conservatives as a reversal of a "federal land grab," is legal. The president's executive order was immediately challenged in lawsuits from tribal and conservation groups. Those cases are still ongoing.

Utah’s politically contentious southeast corner is a living landscape of culture and civilization
Joe Fox, Lauren Tierney, Seth Blanchard and Gabriel Florit
POWER PLAYS

— Make Lakes Great Again: Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler told lawmakers he supports Trump’s vow to reverse proposed cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. During a Tuesday hearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee, Wheeler said he also loves the lakes and agrees “with President Trump last week when he announced we'll fully fund the Great Lakes initiative." The administration had initially proposed slashing funding for the program to restore the lakes' ecosystem by 90 percent, though Congress was highly unlikely go through with the cuts.

The president told supporters during a Michigan campaign rally last week that he supports the Great Lakes. “Always have,” he said. “They’re beautiful. They're big. Very deep, record deepness, right?"

— Reagan official says Trump's EPA "is destroying the scientific foundation of environmental regulations": In an op-ed in The Post, Bernard D. Goldstein criticized the agency for actions to weaken air pollution standards. Wheeler, wrote the former chair of the EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, "has hobbled the committee’s long-standing process to the point that its members cannot provide an informed opinion consistent with the Clean Air Act’s mandate of being ‘requisite to protect the public health.’” Goldstein, who also served as the agency's assistant administrator for research and development, added, “I would have resigned either position had the agency’s overall advisory processes been subject to its current destructive alterations.”

— Jay Inslee returns to Capitol Hill to talk climate change: Washington governor and Democratic presidential candidate spoke about climate change before the House Energy and Commerce committee, criticizing the Trump administration for the decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord and for a lack of action to address climate change, which he’s made the signature issue of his 2020 campaign. The former House member also pushed back when Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) acknowledged states could not combat climate change alone. “It’s hardly helpful when the vast, vast, vast, majority of humanity has recognized this existential threat to their life on this planet, and then have the leader of the free world tear it up and walk away in a petulant juvenile fit, that is not helpful in developing international cooperation,” he said. 

— Interior Department watchdog reviewing allegations that acting secretary violated Trump ethics pledge: The department's Office of Inspector General is reviewing allegations that David Bernhardt may have violated his ethics pledge by getting involved in issues that impact a former client, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin reports. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and at least two outside groups have asked the watchdog to look into Bernhardt’s involvement in the effort to weaken protections for endangered fish species and expand access to water for California farmers, even though he previously lobbied on behalf of the Westlands Water District, which stood to benefit from the changes.

“Under the administration’s ethics pledge, he should be recused from specific issues involving a former client for up to two years, though he can weigh in on policies affecting a broader group of parties,” Eilperin writes. The watchdog has not launched a formal investigation but a spokeswoman said they are “reviewing the facts and requests to determine appropriate next steps.”

Meanwhile: Two top-ranking House Democrats, Raul Grijalva (Ariz.) and T.J. Cox (Calif.), want $2.5 million in additional funding for the watchdog office in light of its increased workload during the Trump administration, The Hill reports.

— Nuclear regulators say they were in the dark about sharing information with Saudi Arabia: Nuclear regulators testifying before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said they were not aware of the Trump administration’s move to authorize companies to share sensitive nuclear energy information with Saudi Arabia even though it was supposed to consult with the agency, The Post’s Steven Mufson reports. During the hearing, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) asked numerous questions about the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s participation, but the commissioners testifying were mum. “I know you don’t have sign-off authority, but none of you at this table know whether the NRC raised any concerns about entering in these 810 authorizations?” Van Hollen asked. NRC Chairman Kristine L. Svinicki said she didn’t know.

“The exchange between Van Hollen and Svinicki illustrates growing concern in Congress over the Energy Department’s authorization of Part 810 information — nonclassified but sensitive details about nuclear energy reactors U.S. companies are trying to sell to Saudi Arabia,” Mufson writes.

— The latest on Trump and Puerto Rico: As Trump continues his rhetorical attacks on Puerto Rico, the fight is likely to trickle into the 2020 campaign, and could get the attention of Puerto Rican voters who are growing in numbers in Florida, The Post’s Toluse Olurunnipa and Josh Dawsey report. “This is a state where elections turn on less than one-half of 1 percent,” said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political scientist. “And the largest cache of new voters is in that community. Why is he picking this fight now?”

The territory's governor, Ricardo Roselló, spoke for Puerto Ricans on Twitter:

What Trump is saying about the island’s leaders: “Trump has complained, West Wing officials said, about Roselló and San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz,” Olurunnipa and Dawsey write. “Trump sees Cruz as a publicly advantageous target, and still resents her criticisms of the FEMA response after Maria, aides said.” One senior administration official said: “In Trump’s mind, Puerto Rico will always have screwed him…He’s not going to drop it.”

“That country”: Meanwhile, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley referred to Puerto Rico as “that country” during an interview on MSNBC this week. He later called it a “slip of the tongue,” as The Post’s John Wagner writes.

Meanwhile: Senate Democrats planned to introduce a new amendment to the multi-billion dollar disaster relief measure following the failure to advance $13 billion in aid for areas impacted by natural disasters across the country. The new amendment would “include a proposal that Senate Republicans support from Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) that increases eligibility for disaster relief legislation to Midwestern and Southern states affected by the floods and provides $600 million of nutrition assistance to Puerto Rico,” Politico reports. “The Shelby amendment expands a bill from Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) that already provided billions in disaster aid… The amendment would also include an amendment requiring the Department of Housing and Urban Development to release grant funds already allocated to the island and would provide $2.5 billion in new relief money to the Midwest, according to a senior Senate Democratic aide.”

THERMOMETER

— Red wolves are wolves and not coyotes: Last year, officials and landowners in North Carolina opposed to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduction program convinced lawmakers to commission a study to determine if red wolves are more coyote than wolf, The Post’s Darryl Fears reports. Coyotes, unlike their larger canine cousins, are plentiful and don’t need protection under the Endangered Species Act. Last week, the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering and Medicine released their findings, “settling a seesaw battle over the red wolf’s taxonomy that had dragged on for decades.”

Drumroll please... The evidence "supports the classification of the contemporary red wolf as a distinct species,” the 94-page report said, concluding that the red wolves are not only distinct from gray wolves and coyotes, the current red wolf species trace back to ancestors that lived more than 10,000 years.

— Man, it’s a hot one: Alaska just had one of the most unusually warm Marches ever, with temperatures 30 to 40 degrees above normal in the northern part of the state and many areas closing out the month with temperatures an average of 20 degrees or more above normal, The Post’s Ian Livingston reports. Reflecting on stories on March weather in Alaska, meteorologist Jeff Berardelli tweeted: “There is no more vivid a display of how quickly our climate is changing than what’s happening right now in the Arctic.”

OIL CHECK

— Alaskan oil secrets in Ohio: The results of a $40 million exploratory well drilled in Alaska three decades ago had been kept close to the vest, so a New York Times duo traveled to Cleveland courthouse to get some answers. They spoke to 86-year-old Sidney B. Silverman, a retired lawyer involved in a 1987 lawsuit there in which he represented shareholders of Standard Oil when it was being acquired by British Petroleum. “The discovery well was worthless,” he told the Times. Silverman said he remembered being convinced “either there was no oil and gas there, or the oil couldn’t be produced at an economic value.” Former BP executive David Jenkins told the Times that while his memories were fuzzy, he remembered telling Silverman in a deposition that “there was never any evidence at all, at that stage, that there was anything material within the refuge.”

The takeaway: “One dry hole does not necessarily mean there is no oil to be found, especially since some decades-old seismic tests indicate that the area may hold as much as 12 billion barrels’ worth,” the Times writes. “But confirmation that the results of the only test well were discouraging could embolden opponents of drilling and prompt second thoughts among potential lease bidders.”

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holds an executive session on various legislative measures.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies holds a hearingon the budget for the National Parks Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey.
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies holds a hearing on science, energy and environmental management programs.
  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development holds a hearing on the 2020 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration.
  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Interior, Environment and Related Agencies holds a hearingon the 2020 EPA budget request.

Coming Up

  • The House  Select Committee on the Climate Crisis holds a hearing on "Generation Climate: Young Leaders Urge Climate Action Now" on Thursday. 
  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies holds a hearingon the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement budgets on Thursday.
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