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Documents Show The Big Role Energy Played In National Monument Discussions

Judy Fahys/KUER News
Around a million acres around Bears Ears in San Juan County lost monument protection after lengthy discussions between the Trump administration, the energy industry and Utah politicians who wanted the original monument reduced, says The New York Times.

Potential energy resources were a big reason behind shrinking two national monuments in Utah, according to a New York Times article on Friday.

The report is based on Interior Department emails, maps and other communications the newspaper obtained through a court order. It describes conversations involving Trump officials, energy companies and Utah politicians who wanted access to potential oil, gas, coal and uranium reserves.

Credit Judy Fahys/KUER News
Tens of thousands of archaeological sites are now excluded from national monument protection after discussions between the Trump administration, energy companies and Utah politicians.

  The administration cut about two million acres from Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante in December. Utah political leaders and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke were among those who accused conservationists of misleading the public about why they wanted smaller monuments. Monument critics insisted they cared about about better public policy, not energy.

“If anything, there were actually some denials from congressional officials that this was part of the dialogue, and clearly those denials weren’t true,” said Amy Roberts, director of the Colorado-based trade group, the Outdoor Industry Association.

 “And to read now that there was quite a bit happening behind the scenes, and that it wasn’t transparent to the public, is disappointing to see, and I think it does call into question the overall process.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, issued a statement Friday that was silent on coal in the Grand Staircase. But it said the New York Times article proved Hatch’s efforts were intended to benefit Utah schoolchildren and the people of San Juan County, who could potentially see more revenue off public lands open to development. (However, legislation proposed by Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, would reapply mining restrictions in areas that were in the original Bears Ears monument boundaries.)

The Interior Department has posted the documentsonline.


Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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