In this section we discuss news related to federal lands and other natural resources.
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Administration proposes land sale from national monument
|2018-Aug-15  (Updated: 2018-Aug-23)||By: Barry Shatzman|
The Trump administration has proposed selling more than 1,600 acres of public lands that had been part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The Utah national monument, as well as Bears Ears National Monument, were reduced by more than half in December.
A road going nowhere
The proposal did not give reasons why certain parcels were chosen for possible sale.
Two of the parcels are adjacent to property owned by Utah state Rep. Mike Noel. The property Noel already owns was part of Grand Staircase-Escalante until it was removed by the Trump administration's action. Noel had advocated for the reduction without disclosing his personal interest.
He later introduced a bill in the state legislature to rename a state highway the Donald J. Trump National Parks Highway. Noel said part of his motive was to thank Trump for shrinking the two national monuments. Noel's bill was not acted upon by the Utah legislature.
Will the lands actually be sold?
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act lists conditions under which federal land can be sold. In general, the sale must be in the best interests of the country, but the Secretary of the Interior has the authority to use discretion.
That discretion includes giving preference to those already owning adjoining land.
Update 2018-Aug-17: The Interior Department says it is backing down from its plans to sell off the public lands.Jump to top of page
Mitigation for damage to public lands no longer required
|2018-Jul-24  (Updated: 2018-Aug-06)||By: Barry Shatzman|
The federal government no longer will require energy companies to pay to mitigate damage they cause to public lands.
Damage from activities such as mining and oil drilling includes the loss of habitats and recreational areas.
The announcement by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reverses an Obama administration policy that collected more than $150 million from companies since 2008.
The money is used improve habitats and other environmental aspects of federal lands outside of those being damaged by the companies.
The agency says companies may voluntarily offer such off-site mitigation, but agency officials may not ask for the money.
Former national monument lands open for mining
|2018-Feb-02||By: Barry Shatzman|
Starting this morning, more than a million acres of what had been parts of two national monuments became available for companies to claim for mining and drilling.
President Trump ordered the reductions of the monuments - Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante - in December.
The Trump administration - particularly Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke - denied that the reductions had anything to do with mining. However, the orders stated that 60 days later the land would be open to "disposition under all laws relating to mineral and geothermal leasing and location, entry, and patent under the mining laws."
The final disposition of the orders still is to be determined. Several groups are suing the administration - challenging the president's authority to shrink a national monument.
One of those groups consists of members of the Navajo Nation - who still are suffering from prior mining. Hundreds of uranium mines on or near their lands have contaminated drinking-water wells, and several have been designated as Superfund sites - most of which have yet to be cleaned up.
For more on mining's effect on the Navajo Nation, read this New York Times story.Jump to top of page
Trump shrinks national monuments with uranium and coal
|2017-Dec-08||By: Barry Shatzman|
President Trump has ordered that two national monuments in Utah be shrunk significantly.
The order calls for Bears Ears National Monument to be shrunk by 85 percent. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument will be reduced by half. It was the largest removal of federal land protections in the country's history.
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke did not provide an explicit reason for the reduction. He did say, "This is not about energy. There is no mine within Bears Ears,"
There are, however, several hundred uranium mining claims there. Once the monument is shrunk, they'll be outside its protected boundaries.
There's also a uranium processing mill at the park's border. It is the only conventional uranium processing facility in the country, according to Energy Fuels Resources (EFR), which owns it. EFR also owns about a third of the mining claims.
In May 2017, EFR's chief operating officer wrote to the interior department explaining all that - and how the company hopes to mine uranium in parts of Bears Ears.
In July 2017, another company executive - along with a two lobbyists - met with two of Zinke's advisers. They had prepared maps of where they would like the monument's borders tightened so that the proposed mines would be outside the protected area after the shrinkage.
In October 2017, one of those lobbyists - Andrew Wheeler - was nominated by Trump to be deputy secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (as of this writing he is awaiting Senate confirmation).
Grand Staircase-Escalante has coal. Mining for that coal - as well as in nearby public lands - was about to begin when President Bill Clinton established it as a national monument.
Click here to read the letter from Energy Fuels Resources to the Interior Department.
Click here to read the executive order to reduce Bears Ears National Monument.
Click here to read the executive order to reduce Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
For more, read the New York Times story.
Trump orders review of National Monuments
|2017-Apr-26||By: Barry Shatzman|
President Trump has signed an executive order for the Department of the Interior to review the country's largest national monuments created since 1996.
The only monument explicitly mentioned in the order is Bears Ears National Monument in Utah - established by President Barack Obama in Dec. 2016 - though it also applies to "such other designations as the Secretary determines to be appropriate".
Once an area is designated a national monument, there can be no new use of the land for mining, drilling, logging, or grazing.
The executive order calls for the review to be completed within 45 days.
No president has ever undone a national monument designation. A legal analysis by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) concludes that a president does not have the authority to unilaterally abolish a national monument. Congress can do so via legislation.
For more, read the Washington Post story.
Click here to read the Executive Order.
Click here to read the NPCA legal analysis regarding a president's authority to revoke a national monument designation.
House: Sell federal lands and drop BLM management
|2017-Jan-31  (Updated: 2017-Mar-05)||By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman|
Rep. Jason Chaffetz has introduced two bills that would limit the government's jurisdiction over federal lands. Or eliminate it.
One of the bills, the Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act, would eliminate enforcement functions currently carried out by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Instead, the government would provide block grants to states so they can provide enforcement.
The Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, directs the government to sell off 3.3 million acres - about the size of Connecticut. Although Chaffetz has introduced these proposals before, this year's timing could be more significant, as a new House rule allows the price to be set well below the land's actual value to the treasury.
Update: On Feb. 2, Chaffetz announced he would withdraw the bill to sell federal lands.
For more, read The Guardian story.Jump to top of page