Pledging to reverse an “egregious abuse of federal power” by the Obama administration, President Trump Wednesday morning directed the Interior Department to review national monument designations over the past two decades.
Mr. Trump’s executive order, signed during a brief ceremony at Interior Department headquarters, directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to examine major monuments created since 1996 and determine whether any violated the century-old Antiquities Act. The act gives presidents clear power to designate monuments but explicitly says they should be limited to the “smallest area” possible.
Former President Obama has come under fire for grabbing huge swaths of land and sea — including 1.35 million acres for the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah during the final days of his administration — using authority under the Antiquities Act. Mr. Obama set a record for the most land and water cordoned off as national monuments, and critics say the Antiquities Act was never meant to allow for such massive land grabs.
“The previous administration used a 10-year old law known as the Antiquities Act to unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control … eliminating the ability of the people who actually live in those states to decide how best to use that land,” Mr. Trump said. “Today we are putting the states back in charge — big thing.”
Mr. Zinke is expected to provide an initial report to the president within 45 days and then present a final study in six months. He said he intends to focus on whether any monument designations went above and beyond what’s allowed by the Antiquities Act.
“Somewhere along the way the act has become a tool of political advocacy rather than public interest,” he said.
It’s not clear whether a president has the legal authority to revoke a monument designation, and the Antiquities Act provides no such power. Environmental groups have vowed to sue the president if he tries to rescind any monuments.