On Wednesday, President Obama issued an order setting aside 1.35 million acres of land in Southern Utah for the Bears Ears National Monument. According to the White House, the president’s action was in response to a proposal from the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which is made up from representatives of the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Hopi Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray and Zuni Tribe. While the Native American tribes rejoiced, however, Republicans in the state of Utah threatened to sue the president.
Gov. Gary Herbert held a press conference denouncing the designation. Seething in anger, he likened Obama to a dictator and said the president left a “little bomb here in Utah” before leaving office in an attempt to punish the state for not supporting him during his tenure in office. The governor went on to say that Obama has abused his power by creating 25 national monuments across the country.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes (R) agreed with the governor in a statement Wednesday night and declared that he is preparing a lawsuit. “My office is working closely with the governor’s office, federal and state legislators, and San Juan County to file a lawsuit challenging this egregious overreach by the Obama administration. This case is different from other past challenges by states and counties and we are confident in our chances of success,” he said.
“But the courtroom is not our only option. Our federal delegation is working hard to defund the designation or rescind it altogether. Additionally, we look forward to working with the new presidential administration on ways to curtail or otherwise address the designation,” Reyes continued.
The idea that President Obama is somehow abusing his authority and acting like a dictator by preserving land for national monuments is preposterous. Prior to Obama, 127 national monuments have been designated by 15 presidents since the Antiquities Act of 1906. Even George W. Bush used his presidential authority to do so. The sudden outrage over the current president’s actions is just another symptom of the right’s Obama Derangement Syndrome and their compulsive need to object to everything he does.
The lawmakers believe that President-elect Trump will be able to rescind the declaration once he is in office, but there is no legal precedent to support such a move. John Leshy, who served as general counsel for the U.S. Department of the Interior in Bill Clinton’s administration, said, “It would be uncharted territory. There are no court decisions since it has never happened.” And University of Utah law professor John Ruple, a research associate with the Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment, stated that if Trump were to try, he would “likely fail”:
“If President Trump attempts to revoke a national monument designation, that effort will almost certainly be embroiled in litigation, and the revocation would likely fail.”
The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition originally identified 1.9 million acres that it wanted set aside for preservation but they are pleased with the proclamation nonetheless. “For the first time in history, a president has used the Antiquities Act to honor the request of Tribal Nations to protect our sacred sites,” said Navajo Nation Council delegate David Filfred.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye explained that the land Obama set aside are the ones the tribes “most want” preserved. He also said that the land is sacred to the Native Americans because it is “where our people gather herbs and where our people go out and do ceremonial events.”
The fact that the land is sacred to the country’s oldest residents is of no matter to the Republican Party unsurprisingly. Val Dalton, a San Juan County rancher who has grazing allotments within the monument, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he doesn’t “know why anybody would want to lock up all the resources in this country so that we can’t use them, and that’s what they’re doing.” That’s not at all what is happening. In fact, the Obama Administration preserved existing rights to drill, graze and mine within the monument.
The real issue here is that the GOP’s donors and voters will not be able to extend the areas of land that they are pillaging for natural resources. At the end of the day their profits are the only thing that is important to them. We have seen this time and again when the party has fought against national parks and bans on offshore drilling. They don’t give a shit that the Native Americans in this country have already had so much ripped away from them or that we need to preserve the land for future generations. Nothing will ever be enough to satisfy their insatiable greed.