President Donald Trump has signed an executive order that critics say could lead to the removal of decades’ worth of federal land protections.
The order directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the lands previously designated as monuments, and suggest changes. Critics say this will allow the Trump administration to roll back protections that prevent drilling, mining and logging on the public land.
For more than 20 years, presidents have used the Antiquities Act to designate certain federal lands and waters as national monuments. With that designation comes certain protections – including, in some cases, bans on logging, mining, and drilling.
Mr Zinke said the president is concerned these designations “may have resulted in loss of jobs, reduced wages and reduced public access.”
“The president believes, like I do, that many of the neighbours in the western states of the federal government can be a good neighbour,” Mr Zinke said. “We can protect areas of cultural and economic importance, and they can use the federal lands for economic development when appropriate.”
Under the executive order, Mr Zinke will review all monuments designated after 1996. That includes monuments such as the Castle Mountains in California, Gold Butte in Nevada, and the northern rim of the Grand Canyon. The order does not automatically rescind the status of any monument – in fact, it is untested whether a president can unilaterally do so. But it does direct Mr Zinke to suggest “legislative changes or modifications” to the monuments under review.
Four U.S. states have sued Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Interior Department and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to block new leases of public lands for coal mining, according to papers filed on Tuesday in Montana federal court.
State prosecutors for California, New Mexico, New York and Washington are arguing new coal extraction would exacerbate global warming and violate the federal government’s statutory duty to use public lands “in a manner that will protect the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archaeological values,” according to the filings.
The move was one of several recent attempts to block a broad pledge by U.S. President Donald Trump to roll back environmental regulations put in place under former President Barack Obama. The former president placed a moratorium on new coal mining leases on public lands more than a year ago, in January 2016.
On March 29, Zinke, whom Trump appointed Interior secretary, formally lifted the ban.
The prosecutors argued in addition to harming the environment, more coal mining on public lands would burden state and local governments with expenses related to healthcare, flood control and other infrastructure needs related to potentially harmful effects of nearby mines.
They also argued the United States’ “outdated structure” for collecting royalties from mining companies meant the government was not obtaining as much money for the leases as it deserved.