The Trump administration has announced plans to open up nearly 700,000 acres of former federally protected lands in Utah for oil and gas drilling, coal mining, and mineral extraction, The Salt Lake Tribune and other news outlets reported. The land was previously part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which President Trump ordered be cut in half in December.
The new plans, announced by the Bureau of Land Management, also propose opening up Bears Ears National Monument — which Trump reduced by 85 percent last year — to provide “more flexibility” for activities like mining, timber harvesting, grazing, and off-road vehicles, according to Outside magazine.
BLM released two potential management plans for Bears Ears and four for Grand Staircase-Escalante, as well as 98-page report on the vast deposits of oil, gas, coal, tar sands, and other minerals that sit under the former Staircase land. The agency’s preferred Staircase strategy is the one that would allow heavy natural resource extraction on 700,000 of the 900,000 acres it cut from the monument last year; it also marked some 1,600 acres for “disposal,” meaning it hopes to sell the land to neighboring property owners. The public now has 90 days to comment on the new plans.
“The lands Trump tried to cut out of the Staircase have an ‘open for business’ sign on them,” Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Off-road vehicles, coal mining, drilling and other activities that without a doubt would destroy monument objects would be allowed. Even in areas that remain in the monument, the plan would drive down protections to the lowest common denominator that would result in damage to culture sites, paleontological resources, and riparian areas and wilderness.”
Five lawsuits are pending in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., challenging the legality of President Trump’s decision to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
For more on efforts to save the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, click here.