A uranium company lobbied the Trump administration to shrink the size of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah months before President Trump announced that he would be reducing the monument by more than 1 million acres, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post.
The campaign — along with the administration’s eventual decision to drastically shrink the borders of Bears Ears National Monument — adds to a pattern of deference to industry at the expense of public lands and the environment.
On Tuesday, Trump announced that he would be reducing the size of two national monuments — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, both located in Utah — after a Department of Interior review that looked at all national monuments designated after 1996. The stated purpose of the review was to decide whether the Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the power to create national monuments, had been improperly used over the recommendations of local communities.
“Our precious natural treasures must be protected, and they, from now on, will be protected,” Trump said on Tuesday during a speech outside of the Utah State Capitol. “Under my administration we will advance that protection through a truly representative process, one that listens to the local communities that know the land the best and cherishes [sic] the land the most.”
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has repeatedly denied that the administration’s decision was influenced by energy opportunities, telling reporters on Tuesday that “this is not about energy” and repeatedly pointing out that there are “no measurable oil and gas opportunities in Bears Ears.” In an op-ed published in CNN defending the decision to shrink the monuments, Zinke said that it signaled a new kind of public lands management that “[listens] to the voices of the people, not Washington, D.C., special interests.”
According to the documents obtained by the Washington Post, however, Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., a subsidiary of a Canadian firm that operates the nation’s last uranium mill just outside of the monument, argued that reducing the monument would allow them to access deposits of uranium located within the monuments’ original boundaries which could “provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future.”
When President Obama designated the area as a national monument in December of 2016, he chose to leave much of the area’s uranium deposits outside of the official boundaries of the monument. That allowed the uranium mill to continue operations, though the company argued that it would make operations more difficult since they would be prohibited from building things like roads throughout the monument. In June, Utah lawmakers wrote to Secretary Zinke and argued that the national monument could hinder the mill’s business and “permanently” eliminate the state’s uranium mining industry.
The Trump administration’s decision to shrink the national monuments is already facing a number of legal challenges, from indigenous communities as well as environmental and conservation groups. Bears Ears has the highest concentrations of cultural and archaeological sites in the nation, and indigenous communities worked for years to have the area designated as a national monument, largely in order to protect the artifacts from industry.
Bears Ears would not be the first protected place to be opened for uranium mining under the Trump administration. At the beginning of November, the Department of Agriculture recommended lifting a 20-year ban on mining for uranium within the watershed of the Grand Canyon. The report was issued as part of Trump’s “energy independence” executive order issued in March, which also directed the repeal of the Clean Power Plan and lifted the moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands.