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Trump criticizes Obama's 'abusive practice' of monument law, orders review

By Allen Cone
Trump criticizes Obama's 'abusive practice' of monument law, orders review
President Donald Trump displays the signed Antiquities executive order as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (L) and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, (R) join others at the Department of the Interior on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The department will review prior monument designations made by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo

April 26 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered the Interior Department to review national monument designations by his three predecessors, taking specific aim at Barack Obama's protections.

Obama placed 265 million acres under the control of the federal government, more land than any previous president. The designations ranged from underwater canyons and mountains off Cape Cod, Mass., to the vast Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Pacific Ocean.

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"The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it's time we ended this abusive practice," Trump said at the signing at the Interior Department.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will review two dozen monuments created over the past 21 years by Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. That includes two protections in Utah where the state's Republican-led lawmakers want to revoke the monument status for sites believed to hold fossil fuel resources.

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Last year, Obama designated 1.3 million acres of federal land as Bears Ears National monument, and in 1996, Bill Clinton protected the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

A Texas-based company has been given permission to drill in Bears Ears.

During a news conference Tuesday, Zinke stressed the order does not revoke the monument status from any site

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Instead, Zinke has 45 days to file interim recommendations and 120 days to suggest legislation to revoke or reduce down the size of any monuments that cover 100,000 acres or more created under the Antiquities Act.

The 1906 Antiquities Act allows a president to designate land for protection. Commercial excavation, including resources drilling, is strictly prohibited and outdoor activities are affected.

The act is "one of our country's kind of bedrock conservation laws," Daniel Ritzman, Sierra Club western public lands protection campaign director, said to Politico.

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The outdoors industry and environmental groups have praised the designations, along with Native American tribes that consider land sacred.

"An executive order that undermines national monuments is not only an attack on America's heritage and history, it's an attack on the millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars that depend on our parks, monuments and other public land," Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times.

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But the energy industry has been lobbying for access to more public lands, and easing the environmental reviews and other permitting processes.

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The American Petroleum Institute has urged Congress to revamp the Antiquities Act.

"There's absolutely interest in developing oil and natural gas resources on public lands," Erik Milito, API's director of upstream and industry operations, said to Politico.

"There's highly prospective areas for the industry and we've seen considerable development on state and private lands in the vicinity of public lands, which would demonstrate that there could be far greater opportunities if we had a more streamlined process and more opportunities by eliminating these types of obstacles to development."

Trump, who has been skeptical of climate change, wants to revive energy production in the United States. The president already has taken steps to keep coal mines open and revoke Obama-era initiatives to combat climate change.

"This administration has made it clear that they're going to do the bidding of the oil and gas industry," said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a Colorado-based conservation group, said to Politico.

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