Even before President Trump officially opened his high-profile review last spring of federal lands protected as national monuments, the Department of Interior was focused on the potential for oil and gas exploration at a protected Utah site, internal agency documents show.
The debate started as early as March 2017, when an aide to Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, asked a senior Interior Department official to consider shrinking Bears Ears National Monument in the southeastern corner of the state. Under a longstanding program in the Utah, oil and natural gas deposits within the boundaries of the monument could have been used to raise revenue for public schools had the land not been under federal protection.
“Please see attached for a shapefile and pdf of a map depicting a boundary change for the southeast portion of the Bears Ears monument,” said the March 15 email from Senator Hatch’s office. Adopting this map would “resolve all known mineral conflicts,” the email said, referring to oil and gas sites on the land that the state’s public schools wanted to lease out to bolster funds.
The map that Mr. Hatch’s office provided, which was transmitted about a month before Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke publicly initiated his review of national monuments, was incorporated almost exactly into the much larger reductions President Trump announced in December, shrinking Bears Ears by 85 percent. [Continue reading…]
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