Photo: liquidcrash / flickr
President Trump is expected to sign an executive order today directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review every national monument over 100,000 acres designated since 1996, including the controversial Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah. At least he waited until after Earth Day.
While the order itself won’t impact the boundaries of the more than two dozen monuments to be reviewed, Secretary Zinke will have 120 days to issue recommendations for rescinding, reducing or altering specific monuments. The Antiquities Act, which has been invoked by 16 presidents, will also be reviewed at the behest of Trump’s order.
“I’m a Teddy Roosevelt guy,” Zinke said in response to concerns he might roll back some designations. “You can’t love public lands more than I do.”
Right. Let’s get real for a second. This executive order is so thinly-veiled it’s not even worth delving into all the BS. In reality, it accomplishes two of the Trump administration’s biggest goals: Reversing Obama-era policies and expanding extractive industries’ access to natural resources. Under the oft-used guise of creating jobs in depressed sectors that can’t sustain them (cough-cough-coal), Trump and Zinke are attacking the integrity of some of America’s most cherished public lands and threatening some of Native Americans’ most sacred sites.
Too bad they’re gonna lose.
For starters, the Antiquities Act doesn’t grant presidents the power to rescind previous presidents’ designations — only Congress can do that. Trump can try, but he’s likely to face epic legal entanglements that would force his administration to showcase its reasoning for reducing or rescinding any national monuments. If that reasoning is opening the door to oil, gas, timber and mining companies, well, it’s unlikely to pass muster in a court of a law. And even if it somehow does, the next president can always reverse the reversals.
Furthermore, in news that should be music to environmentalists’ ears, experts, and even fossil-fuel companies, more or less agree that Trump’s executive order is unlikely to create energy jobs or lead to new drilling operations, even if Zinke decides to open new lands to extraction. A glut of oil is keeping prices down. There’s no incentive to install new rigs, and thus no reason to believe jobs will materialize.
But Trump’s greatest challenge may be selling this one to the electorate. Americans and Westerners in particular overwhelmingly support public lands and oppose turning them over to private interests. This is an issue that unites hikers, climbers, bikers, fishermen, hunters, paddlers, riders, campers — basically any and all outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen who rely on public lands to exercise their inalienable right to pursue happiness.
Outdoor recreation generates $887 billion in revenue, 7.6 million jobs and $124 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue every year according to a report released just yesterday by the Outdoor Industry Association. Only 180,00 Americans are directly employed by oil and gas companies compared to 483,000 who rely on hunting and fishing to make a living.
Trump, a self-proclaimed master at identifying talent and knowing when to let underperformers go, should consider firing the rudderless pirates constantly steering his presidency into stormy seas. Just like his xenophobic travel ban and toxic healthcare bill, the President has picked yet another fight he’s destined to lose. There’s no way Americans are going to watch silently as a bunch of rich, white guys beholden to gas, oil and mining companies take a chisel to public lands. Just ask Jason Chaffetz.