Utah challenges Biden administration over Bears Ears Monument, Grand Staircase restoration
The legal battle over the boundary area of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments entered a new phase when the state of Utah and two counties in Utah challenged the Biden administration’s decision to restore Obama-era boundaries.
The boundary area size was decreased by the Trump administration to allow for mineral exploration and cattle grazing. The Biden administration expanded the monument designations in October 2021, reversing a 2017 Trump decision that reduced the area and made it available for potential development. The latest boundaries are slightly larger than the original designation during the Obama administration, Reuters reported.
National monument designations provide general protections for historic places and structures, though the restrictions don't impact existing mineral leases and private property.
In the latest filing, Utah and two state counties argue that presidents are only allowed to establish nationally protected monuments on the “smallest area” needed to preserve landmarks and structures of historic and cultural value, but the Biden administration’s move far exceeds that mandate.
Noting that the monuments together cover 3.23 million acres of land, the state asked the court to declare the administration's designation an overstep of authority under the National Monuments and Antiquities Act. Allowing the designation to remain would “stifle local economic activity, impact local culture and tradition, lock up potentially critical minerals, destroy jobs” and impose costly regulatory burdens on local governments, the complaint said.
In a joint statement, elected leaders from Utah including Governor Spencer Cox and U.S. Senators Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, added they believe the monument designations would attract visitors who might damage the lands.
“The vast size of the expanded Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments draws unmanageable visitation levels to these lands without providing any of the tools necessary to adequately conserve and protect these resources,” the statement said.
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