Bennet to Trump administration: Hear from the courts before chewing on Bears Ears

Author: Joey Bunch - April 30, 2018 - Updated: May 10, 2018

Bears Ears National MonumentBears Ears National Monument. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is telling the Trump administration to tap the brakes on its fast-moving plan to open up portions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah for mining and drilling, until the courts have a say.

He and 15 other Democratic senators sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to halt work on plans, given the challenges in court to “President Trump’s illegal attempt to shrink these monuments,” Bennet’s office said.

Bennet and his like-minded senators are concerned that nearly 3 million public comments against the plan have brushed aside in favor of developing portions of the property for mining and drilling, without consulting with American Indians who consider sacred the acreage set aside by Democratic presidents Obama and Clinton.

Bowing to Republican leaders in Washington, Trump traveled to Utah in December to announce he was shrinking the 1,35 million-acre Bears Ears’ boundary by 85 percent and the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument by 50 percent.

Reporting by the New York Times found that the decision was driven by coal and oil interests.

“The president lacks the authority to revoke or reduce previously established national monuments—that authority is reserved to Congress,” according to the letter from Bennet and fellow senators. “We strongly disagree with the Department of the Interior’s decision to rush into the planning process for these landscapes based on proclamations which are being challenged in court and are likely to be overturned.”

It continued:

“The public has made clear they believe that national monuments should remain protected. It has come to our attention that the BLM does not plan to consider the input or findings from these millions of comments during this rushed planning process they have undertaken. Further, we have heard that BLM staff will not be considering comments during this process regarding objects, resources and values within the over one million acres that were eliminated from Bears Ears National Monument – despite the likelihood that ongoing legal cases will impact future management of these lands. Finally, we are unaware of any plan to conduct meaningful tribal consultation with any of the tribes who have cultural ties to this region, many of which still live in the area today.

“The failure to take into account a historic outpouring of support from the public as well as the failure to consider proper management to protect resources that have been eliminated via legally dubious actions is further evidence that this management process should be postponed.”

Besides Bennet, the letter was signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Dianne Feinstein of California, Kamala Harris of California, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Ron Wyden of Oregon

The full letter can be read by clicking here.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.