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Rural Utah Communities Join Fight to Protect Western Way of Life

Apr 30, 2018 | by William Perry Pendley

Represented by Mountain States Legal Foundation, three Utah Counties defend authority of President Trump to rectify illegal national monuments.

DENVER, CO.  Three rural, isolated, and federal land dominated Utah counties that suffered economic privation from illegal national monument decrees today sought to join in lawsuits filed by powerful environmental groups against President Trump.  Kane, Garfield, and San Juan Counties, located across the vast south-east corner of the Beehive State, represented by Mountain States Legal Foundation, argue President Trump has the legal authority and moral obligation to reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah illegally declared by Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

When President Clinton ordered the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996, closing off 1.9 million acres of public land to the productive uses that have traditionally supported western communities, residents were promised the resulting tourism boom would more than make up for the loss of ranching, mining, logging, and other economic activities.  The tourists, however, never came and local economies never recovered.  When President Trump, based upon recommendations by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke after a thorough study, announced late last year that he was reducing the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the Bears Ears National Monument (an eleventh-hour decree issued by President Obama in 2016), the action was immediately challenged by radical environmental groups and the billion-dollar corporation Patagonia.  The groups, all totaled, raised $390 million for the latest year available and bragged of assets of more than $855 million.   

“Presidents—no matter how exalted by the media—are not pharaohs; nothing is written in stone—even our beloved Constitution can be amended; and, all illegal acts are meant to be rectified,” said William Perry Pendley, Mountain States Legal Foundation president.

“A President has the legal authority and a moral obligation to ensure that actions by the Executive comply with the Constitution and laws passed by Congress,” said David McDonald,  Mountain States Legal Foundation staff attorney.  “President Trump walked back illegal and economically destructive actions by his predecessors and it’s vital the people whose livelihoods are on the line—not just well-to-do environmentalists who occasionally camp in the area—have the right to defend his actions.”

The President of the United States has been delegated the authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate as national monuments “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” on federal lands.”  The Act also mandates that the designations “shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

The Act was passed to provide “protection to the large Indian ruins of the southwest.”  Its legislative history proves that Congress was concerned singularly with “the preservation of the remains of the historic past[,]” and that its entire and sole purpose was in order “to create small reservations reserving only so much land as may be absolutely necessary for the preservation of these interesting relics of prehistoric times.”  Congress “specifically rejected broader versions of the law that included protection of scenic areas within the Act.” 

Unfortunately, however, presidents of both parties have long abused this power by designating huge swaths of federal land as national monuments on only the thinnest of justifications—as was the case with the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante and 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears designations.

In 1997, Mountain States Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the creation of the vast Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and in 2017 urged President Trump to revoke the decrees issued by Clinton and Obama.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public interest law firm dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system.  Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.

For more information:  Wilderness Society v. Trump

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