BILLINGS – Environmentalists sued the administration of President Donald Trump on Thursday seeking to pry loose details of plans to shrink national monuments and marine areas and open them to more resource development.
The lawsuit alleges the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Interior Department illegally ignored Freedom of Information Act requests for documents related to the issue.
Trump said last week he intends to shrink two monuments in Utah – Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, according to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Additionally, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended shrinking Nevada’s Gold Butte, Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou and two marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean. More logging would be allowed at Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters and grazing and commercial fishing at other monuments.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., include the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
“If the Trump administration thinks what they are about to do is legal, why are they keeping it secret?” asked Yvonne Chi with Earthjustice, the law firm representing the environmentalists. “We expect the record to show that the administration has been speaking with industry groups.”
Administration officials declined comment.
Trump ordered Zinke to review 27 national monuments and marine areas in April. The monuments are protected under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that gives presidents broad power to set aside lands of “historic or scientific interest.”
Trump has complained it’s been used as a “massive federal land grab” by former presidents including Democrat Barack Obama, placing millions of acres of lands and vast areas of ocean under onerous restrictions, at times over the objections of local communities.
Environmentalists and American Indian tribes have said the Trump administration’s actions threaten to degrade scenic landscapes, valuable archaeological sites and important wildlife habitat.
The Associated Press also has sought documents related to the monument review through a Freedom of Information Act request filed in August. The AP has yet to receive a response from the Interior Department.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.