Potential energy resources were a big reason behind shrinking two national monuments in Utah, according to a New York Times article on Friday.
The report is based on Interior Department emails, maps and other communications the newspaper obtained through a court order. It describes conversations involving Trump officials, energy companies and Utah politicians who wanted access to potential oil, gas, coal and uranium reserves.
The administration cut about two million acres from Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante in December. Utah political leaders and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke were among those who accused conservationists of misleading the public about why they wanted smaller monuments. Monument critics insisted they cared about about better public policy, not energy.
“If anything, there were actually some denials from congressional officials that this was part of the dialogue, and clearly those denials weren’t true,” said Amy Roberts, director of the Colorado-based trade group, the Outdoor Industry Association.
“And to read now that there was quite a bit happening behind the scenes, and that it wasn’t transparent to the public, is disappointing to see, and I think it does call into question the overall process.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, issued a statement Friday that was silent on coal in the Grand Staircase. But it said the New York Times article proved Hatch’s efforts were intended to benefit Utah schoolchildren and the people of San Juan County, who could potentially see more revenue off public lands open to development. (However, legislation proposed by Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, would reapply mining restrictions in areas that were in the original Bears Ears monument boundaries.)
The Interior Department has posted the documents online.