In a thinnly veiled bid to create the illusion of accomplishment in his first 100 days in office, President Donald Trump will spend the last week of April signing a flurry of executive orders. Copies of these orders were leaked, allegedly by a source with direct White House knowledge, to Jonathan Swan of Axios. One of these orders, expected to be signed on Wednesday, will apparently direct the Department of the Interior to “review” President Barack Obama’s use of the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate national monuments.
Despite the bland-sounding language, this anticipated order is perhaps the best encapsulation of how radical the Republican agenda became under Obama, and how the GOP obsession with denying the former president’s legitimacy continues to define the party in general and Trump’s presidency in particular.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters on Tuesday Trump’s executive order would require him to conduct the review of around 30 national monuments and recommend which designations should be lifted or resized over the coming months. He said he would seek feedback from Congressional delegations, governors and local stakeholders before making his recommendations.
“I am not going to predispose what the outcome is going to be,” Zinke said. Rescinding or altering a national monument designation would be new ground for the government, he said.
“It is untested, as you know, whether the president can do that,” Zinke said.
The monuments covered by the review will range from the Grand Staircase in Utah created by President Bill Clinton in 1996 to the Bears Ears monuments created by President Barack Obama in December 2016 in the same state, covering millions of acres of land overlying minerals, oil and gas.
Obama’s administration created the Bears Ears monument arguing that it would protect the cultural legacy of the Navajo and four other tribes and preserve “scenic and historic landscapes.” But Utah’s governor opposed the designation, saying it went against the wishes of citizens eager for development.
The area lies near where EOG Resources (EOG.N) – a Texas-based company – had been approved to drill.
Zinke said the broader aim of the order is to give states more input in the monument designation process, and “restore trust between local communities and Washington.”
While he acknowledged that national monuments could bring tourism, he said he thinks federal land should be managed for “multiple uses.”
Conservation groups and Native American tribal representatives slammed the looming order, suggesting it would be fought in court.
“With this review, the Trump Administration is walking into a legal, political and moral minefield,” said Kate Kelly, public lands director for the Center for American Progress.
A summary of the forthcoming order, seen by Reuters, said past administrations “overused” the Antiquities Act that allows presidents to create monuments.