Ask Eartha unpacks Trump’s first 100 days in office
May 4, 2017
I'm hearing more and more about land conservation issues and our national monuments at risk. Can you shed some light on the executive order President Trump signed last week?
— Pete, Blue River
Thank you for your question this week, Pete. With just over 100 days in office, President Donald Trump has signed 32 executive orders, more than we've seen from a single president in that same time frame over the past several decades.
Acting on several agendas, President Trump and his administration have certainly been busy during his preliminary months in office. Just over a week ago, Trump signed a particularly controversial executive order involving a land-conservation act held in reverence by many environmental stewards and conservationists.
The Antiquities Act of 1906, enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, maintains a process by which American antiquities are preserved and protected. The act grants rights to our presidents to place specific lands under federal protection, and to date, no president has attempted reverse the designation of a protected land.
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Trump's executive order signed last week now calls into review more than 20 designations set aside by presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama over the past two decades. Objects of historic and scientific interest are protected under the Antiquities Act, and vary from our vast national monuments to specific historic sites. The federal protection of these lands prohibits excavation, alteration, or destruction of these antiquities.
The president's executive order signed last week instructs the secretary of the interior to review all protected sites designated over the past 20 years greater than 100,000 acres in size. While the executive order leaves many protected historic sites intact and unaffected, it clearly targets lands in which the potential for energy resource exploration, and thus, economic development is significant. Trump argues that the Antiquities Act had for too long armed the presidency with "egregious" power to place massive regions under federal authority. Furthermore, Trump insists the power and authority over these lands needs to fall unto the state and the local powers that be.
Under the executive order, the secretary of the interior will be evaluating lands based on various concerns of state, tribal and local governments affected by the designation. These evaluations will take into consideration economic development potential, availability of federal resources to maintain protections and even requires coordination between the heads of various federal executive departments to arrive at a consensus. In diving into the details of the executive order, it seems Trump has covered a wide array of concerns and has done so in somewhat of a politically neutral manner.
While the president may proclaim his actions an attempt to quell federal authority over lands that belong to the states, I can't help but play the devil's advocate. Why call into question the designation of dozens of protected sites for the mere purpose of restoring authority to a local level? With the Trump administration's "America First Energy Plan" a driving force behind numerous actions early in the presidency, I cannot fail to connect the dots.
Targeting lands of significant size, it seems the executive order is designed to ultimately reduce the scope of protection at these sites, or perhaps even reverse their status as national antiquities, opening them up to exploitation and ultimately their destruction as healthy natural landscapes. Over the course of the next 45 to 120 days, the final verdict on these sites will be announced to the public. Keep an eye on these issues and continue to educate yourself on the viewpoints of both parties.
Perhaps even more important than the final verdict of these protected sites is that these actions taken by our president may set the stage for agendas against protected conservation sites to continue to metastasize. Engage with your state office and have your voice be heard if you'd prefer these precious antiquities remain under the stewardship of our federal government. Losing these lands to state and local powers opens the door to a litany of resource developers willing to pay their way into the degradation of these precious sites.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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