Mining to begin in national monument eliminated by Trump

Meanwhile, groups are suing over decision to open up the lands to resource extraction.

The setting sun sets sandstone cliffs ablaze with light along Cottonwood Road near the Kodachrome Basin in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, on Sept. 28, 2017.  (Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
The setting sun sets sandstone cliffs ablaze with light along Cottonwood Road near the Kodachrome Basin in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, on Sept. 28, 2017. (Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Canadian mining company, Glacier Lake Resources Inc., has announced that they have acquired rights to the “Colt Mesa” copper and cobalt mine located on lands eliminated from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

In December 2017, President Trump removed protections from nearly 1 million acres of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and 1.2 million acres of Bears Ears National Monument, both located in Utah. The move amounted to the largest elimination of protected areas in U.S. history. Within Trump’s proclamation was a provision that in February 2018, the areas excluded from the monuments would become open to private mineral companies to begin staking mining and drilling claims.

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“[T]he Colt Mesa project is a welcome addition to the Company’s ever growing portfolio of projects,” Saf Dhillon, president and chief executive officer of Glacier Lake Resources, said in a press release. “Surface exploration work will start this summer on the Colt Mesa property and drill permitting will be initiated shortly.”

In March, the company made 10 claims, totaling 200 acres, but only announced acquisition June 13. With the exception of a few reporters looking at the process, this is the first threat the area faces from a new mining claim.

Despite the evidence, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and other supporters of Trump’s cuts — like House Natural Resources Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) — have denied that the goal of the monument reductions was for mineral or oil development.

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Shortly after Trump’s executive order, Native American tribes, scientists, and conservation and historic preservation organizations filed suit against the administration, arguing that only Congress — not the president — has the power to reduce the size of national monuments.  Members of the lawsuit claim the excluded lands remain part of a national monument and are legally closed to mining.

If the ongoing lawsuit rules that the boundaries of the monuments remain in effect, mining claims could be overturned.

“Mining is prohibited in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and any mining claims are invalid, just like President Trump’s attempt to dismantle the monument, which we are already challenging in court,” said Nada Culver, Senior Director for Agency Policy and Counsel for The Wilderness Society. “This company’s actions, and any others that try to mine within monument boundaries, will be scrutinized.”

The proposed mine would focus on cobalt, copper, and other hard rock minerals. Those minerals are governed by the outdated 1872 mining law, which allows companies to operate royalty-free. That would mean that the Canadian company would pay exactly $0 to US taxpayers for mining on national monument-quality land and potentially interfering with wildlife and outdoor recreation.

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The Administration’s efforts to sell out America’s national monuments is deeply unpopular with most Americans. During the Department of the Interior’s 60-day comment period on the topic, more than 2.8 million people submitted comments —  98 percent of which expressed support for maintaining or expanding national monuments.


Jenny Rowland is a senior policy analyst on the Public Lands team at the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within CAP.