In November, President Trump designated more than 1.4 million acres in Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments as “contiguous” and “relevant.” However, the Obama-era designations prevented new drilling and mining on the properties.

On Tuesday, after reaching an agreement with several Native American tribes, the Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management unveiled “The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Strategic Management Plan” that would allow drilling and mining on the 3.6 million acres at the heart of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, including Copper Mountain National Park and the Three Theses Formation and the San Rafael Swell.

Trump made the announcement at the Juniper Ridge Mining District offices outside of Sterling. “This is a real strong decision,” said Mark Pearce, a senior deputy director at BLM. “This is a very important decision for everyone involved to not only have, but to embrace.”

Bryan Siegal of Ute Indian Tribe discusses monument restructuring. Bryan Siegal of Ute Indian Tribe discusses monument restructuring. SEE MORE VIDEOS

“I have no doubt that our native tribes will be ready to implement an aggressive and innovative oil and gas revitalization program to further modernize and improve the experience in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” said Julie Sims, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, in a prepared statement. “We will advocate aggressively for that program to protect the sensitive environmental values of this Monument and prevent the harms of past petroleum development here.”

Environmental groups immediately criticized the plan, saying it would compromise the environment in the already-waterlogged region.

“The proposed plan would substantially reverse decades of bipartisan public investment and leave communities feeling overburdened and unfavorably impacted,” said Lee Crockett, director of the Sierra Club’s Utah chapter. “Re-opening these federal lands to oil and gas drilling will exacerbate the already-enormous impacts of climate change and encourage costly, intensive extraction methods — all at the expense of the people who live and work in southern Utah.”

Rocky Anderson of Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition. Rocky Anderson of Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition. SEE MORE VIDEOS

During the press conference, White House administration officials said Trump, and specifically Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, was in Utah to fulfill a promise to the state and its indigenous tribes.

“The president has put himself on the shoulders of three tribes, and he’s put himself on the shoulders of the American people,” said Interior Department press secretary Heather Swift. “He’s put himself in a strategic position to solve some real problems and to bring benefit to America.”

The Bears Ears National Monument contained in July 2014 was the largest protected area in America. It was created by Obama in December 2016, saying it “provides critical protections for cultural artifacts, archaeological sites, and wild and scenic rivers.”

The Dine Bikeyah Tribal Council from Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, filed a legal challenge to the designation of the Bears Ears as a monument, arguing that it violated a federal law that prevents land reserves from being “provisionally withdrawn” without the consent of federal land managers.

In November, following a court case review, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the president could not reorganize a national monument.

But Zinke’s proposal and Department of Interior’s implementation could withstand legal challenges, said Christopher Horner, a lawyer and blogger who specializes in the implementation of executive orders, saying the agreement will “are clear-cut and noncontroversial” and will help the Trump administration achieve political goals.

Horner pointed to the E.U., where President Obama’s controversial expansion of the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is pending; in the U.S., the majority of indigenous groups he represents are unified on this issue, and most “public lands protection” efforts in the last five years had tribal support.

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