Attorney General Becerra Joins Amicus Brief Challenging Trump Administration Action Shrinking National Monuments

Monday, November 19, 2018
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The coalition’s amicus brief supports lawsuits brought by indigenous peoples and environmental groups to protect lands in the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments.

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a multistate coalition in filing an amicus brief supporting Native American tribes and environmental groups in their lawsuits challenging the Trump Administration’s 2017 action to significantly shrink the protected lands at the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments. In the brief, the states argue that the President lacks the authority under the Antiquities Act to reduce the size of national monuments, and that the action was unlawful and unconstitutional.

“We won’t stand by while the Trump Administration foolishly moves to shrink Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments,” said Attorney General Becerra. “National monument designations protect the irreplaceable natural and cultural heritage that belongs to all Americans, ensuring that the haste or greed of one generation does not squander those gifts at the expense of future generations. With his action, President Trump has unlawfully disrespected America’s rich history by violating the constitution and opening up protected land to the highest corporate bidder.” 

Congress passed the Antiquities Act in 1906, which allows the President to designate national architecture, historic, scientific resources, and land for protection as national monuments. This designation means that these lands are closed to new development including oil and gas leasing, utilities, and new grazing permits. Presidents of both political parties have invoked the Antiquities Act over the last two centuries to protect natural American treasures.  While the law grants the President authority to designate objects and add lands for protection, it does not grant the authority to revoke protections once they are established.

President Trump’s proclamation to reduce the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments followed an April 2017 Executive Order instructing the Department of the Interior to review the monument designations made by previous presidents. Though his proclamation, President Trump would eliminate 85 percent of Bears Ears, or more than 1.1 million acres, and eliminated nearly half of Grand Staircase-Escalante or 862,000 acres. Removing protections from the national monuments could result in the land being leased to corporate interests for oil, gas, and mineral development. President Trump’s actions also endanger the long-term viability of the national monuments, and the scientific and historic objects that the monuments protect. 

In the brief, Attorney General Becerra, along with a coalition of state attorneys general from nine states and the District of Columbia challenge the reduction of the national monuments, explaining that the Trump Administration:

  • Wrongly asserts that removing the designation has no immediate impact;
  • Inaccurately interprets the Antiquities Act, which does not authorize President Trump to reduce Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, or any other national monuments or marine sanctuaries; and
  • Harms states by disrupting partnerships with the federal government to preserve and protect precious archeological, historic, and scientific resources.

A copy of the brief can be found here.

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