WASHINGTON, D.C. — The new chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee said he expects Congress to investigate the Trump administration’s decision to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments in southern Utah.
In an interview Friday in his Capitol Hill office, Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, said the public needs to know what factors were behind President Donald Trump’s move in December 2017, to strip protections against mining and development on 2 million acres in the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments, which were created by the past two Democratic presidents.
"I firmly believe that the shrinkage was in response to the coal industry and uranium mining industry — but I stand to be proven wrong," Grijalva said. "That's why we have oversight. That's why we have those investigations."
Grijalva said he also supports legislation to restore the original monument boundaries. The Arizona congressman said the committee will focus on how the Trump administration has managed public lands policies over the past two years.
That includes Democrats looking to hear from former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who advised the president to shrink the monuments after a listening tour through Utah earlier that year. Utah political leaders who advocated for reducing or eliminating the monuments joined Zinke throughout that tour.
Grijalva said committee members also will want to know who the Trump administration snubbed and why.
Around 2.8 million Americans responded to Zinke's call for comments on the national monuments, and more than 90 percent said they wanted the monuments to stay as they were. Trump's proclamations on Dec. 4, 2017, to reduce the monument boundaries ran counter to that sentiment.
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who was chairman of the Natural Resources Committee during the first two years of the Trump administration, backed the monument reductions. When the November elections put Democrats in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Bishop lost that leadership role to Grijalva.
In Escalante, businessman Mark Austin welcomed the prospect of an investigation. He and other supporters of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument protested Zinke during his visit. Austin said the Boulder-Escalante Chamber of Commerce had requested — and was granted — a meeting with the Interior secretary that was cancelled.
"I think when they investigate, they will discover that the decision to do so was completely biased," said Austin. "I think it’s critical that [the investigation] happens."
Grijalva said he plans a site visit to southern Utah to speak with Austin and others who were excluded from the administration’s deliberations. The congressman also said he supports legislation to restore original boundaries at both Utah monuments.