President Trump’s rollback of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah become official Friday, allowing private citizens and companies to make new oil, natural gas, and drilling claims.
Trump on Dec. 4 signed a proclamation cutting Bears Ears by more than 1.1 million acres, or 85 percent, and creating two smaller monuments instead. Former President Barack Obama, who created the 1.35-acre Bears Ears National Monument just before he left office, had banned mining and drilling there.
Trump also slashed the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante monument, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, nearly in half.
Multiple environmental groups and Native American tribes have sued the Trump administration over both actions, arguing the president abused beyond his power, but the courts have not acted on the legal challenges yet.
A Republican-authored bill in Congress would ban mining and drilling in the new Bears Ears monuments, as well as the larger area protected by Obama. But the bill faces long odds in Congress, and beginning today, companies can make mining claims on the land.
“We’re working on getting information and new monument maps ready for people interested in claims,” Utah Bureau of Land Management spokesman Michael Richardson confirmed to Reuters.
Environmental groups have argued that shrinking Bears Ears could lead energy developers to seize on the land removed from protection to mine for oil, uranium, and natural gas.
But there is limited opportunity for oil and gas drilling in Bears Ears and the area around it. There are some uranium deposits there, however prices are low and energy companies have downplayed their interest.
For example, Energy Fuels, a uranium producer with mining claims in the area, has endorsed the Republican bill banning mining and drilling in Bears Ears. The New York Times and Washington Post have reported Energy Fuels lobbied the Trump administration to reduce the Bears Ears boundaries, so the company could have easier access to a nearby uranium processing mill that it operates.
An Energy Fuels representative previously told the Washington Examiner it has no plans to file mining claims in the original or revised Bears Ears area, and has “actually been dropping claims over the past few years.”
The area formerly protected in Grand Staircase, meanwhile, has known coal reserves. A Republican bill to enshrine Trump’s rollback of Grand Staircase into law would allow mining and drilling.