Posted on February 20, 2018
How Earthjustice is Fighting Trump’s Attack on National Monuments
Most Americans can agree that our national monument lands shouldn’t be turned into coal and uranium mines. But not Trump. His illegal decision to gut two monuments in Utah – Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante – opens these American treasures to private profiteering.We filed two lawsuits to stop this decision almost immediately after his announcement in December. We are poised to sue again if he takes aim at more monuments.
At Earthjustice, our slogan is “Because the Earth needs a good lawyer.” In the fight over national monuments, the fossil fuel industry has an immense amount of resources to push for their private interests. We proudly defend the public’s interest.
In Grand Staircase, we are fighting to protect the last great dinosaur boneyard in the United States from coal mining. More than 20 types of dinosaurs previously unknown to humanity have been discovered in the monument lands. The finds have opened a rare window onto the Mesozoic Era, a time of global warming that could help us understand future conditions on Earth.
Scientists have much more to explore, but the area is suddenly vulnerable to coal mining thanks to Trump’s move to strip monument status from nearly half the original lands. As one dinosaur expert told me recently, when it’s a competition between paleontologists and mining companies, industry wins.
Bears Ears National Monument, meanwhile, encompassed more than 100,000 Native American archeological and cultural sites, some dating back to 12,000 B.C. Trump has gutted the monument, leaving just 16 percent of the original land protected. Uranium miners have eyed the area in the past. According to Trump’s proclamation in December, anybody with four wooden pickets can now stake a hardrock mining claim in lands he stripped of national monument protections.
Both monuments have welcomed and wowed visitors with their stunning mesas and towering sandstone cliffs. At the bottom of slot canyons that meander for miles of Utah desert, the sky appears above like a fiery crack, and the rock walls turn brilliant hues of orange and pink.
These are the lands that belong to all us, and these are the public interests that we defend in court. Heidi McIntosh, one of our lead attorneys in this fight, recently told me “What I feel in that moment when I’m in court is a sense of excitement and privilege to be in a position to defend these iconic places before a judge.”
Heidi and our other lawyers are arguing in court that Trump’s effort to gut monuments violates the separation of powers under the constitution. We offer a full explanation here.
Many of our most famous national parks started out as national monuments, including Acadia, Arches and Grand Canyon. At the time, an Arizona newspaper said it was “fiendish” and “diabolical” to designate Grand Canyon as a monument rather than allow mining.
There will always be short-sighted people trying to recklessly profit off our public lands. We take the long view, and we take them to court.