Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Utah land swaps could foil a Trump bid to strip protection

Jennifer Yachnin, E&E News reporter

The Clinton administration's decision to protect the site was made in near-total secrecy, at least in part to lock up a massive coal deposit in the area's Kaiparowits Plateau while preserving cliffs, slot canyons and sandstone arches (Greenwire, July 13, 2016). That process prompted Congress to adjust the monument's boundaries in 1998 — excluding four small towns and adding nearly 400,000 acres of state lands acquired in an exchange with Utah, while handing over about 145,000 acres to Utah state officials, including lands now within the Kodachrome Basin State Park. Congressional lawmakers also paid $50 million to Utah in the exchange negotiated by then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R), who would later serve as U.S. EPA administrator. "A lot of water has already gone under the bridge with Grand Staircase-Escalante," said Earthjustice attorney Heidi McIntosh. She said the land exchange and payment made to Utah's state government would create an "enormous complication" in any effort to undo the site's current status. "How do you unwind all of that as you attempt to roll back the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument?" she said.McIntosh disagrees with the assertion that Trump could utilize the Antiquities Act to revoke any monument's status — something no commander-in-chief has attempted in the law's 110-year history, but that Republicans like House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) argue could be done. She asserted that the boundary adjustments approved by Congress could further confound any effort to do so for Grand Staircase-Escalante. "It seems like it would be really impossible for them to do that legally," McIntosh said, noting that Congress approved the monument's boundaries and has subsequently ratified the site by funding the Bureau of Land Management's management plan. She added: "The president has no authority to amend an act of Congress."...more

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