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Trump administration to allow energy development in Utah former national monument

House Natural Resources chairman calls the move ‘a shameless giveaway campaign’

Sandstone formations are seen in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument outside Escalante, Utah. (George Frey/Getty Images file photo)
Sandstone formations are seen in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument outside Escalante, Utah. (George Frey/Getty Images file photo)

The Bureau of Land Management acknowledged Friday it plans to open a large portion of land in Utah — which the federal government until recently considered a national monument — to future oil, gas and mining projects.

At the urging of local and state officials as well as industry groups, President Donald Trump in 2017 shrank the size of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to 1 million acres from the 1.9 million acres it was when President Bill Clinton established it.

Planning documents released by the agency Friday said that of the acreage cut from the original monument, roughly 211,000 acres would be exempt from fossil fuel leasing, while the remaining land would be available for future leases. None of the land would be exempt from mining.

Democrats have criticized Trump’s decision to reduce the monument’s size, noting the potential for coal and oil within the original monument’s boundaries.

[Grijalva’s moment arrives as he takes Natural Resources gavel]

But the Interior Department, which recommended Trump’s action, said special interests hadn’t factored into its decision-making.

In a statement released after BLM’s plans were made public, House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, said the department had misspent federal funds in preparing the documents because the president’s action is the subject of ongoing litigation. He called the move a “shameless giveaway campaign.”

“The Trump administration is wasting taxpayer dollars that should go to protecting our public lands and using them to open important places to destructive fossil fuel extraction,” Grijalva said.

[Seeking to shrink Bears Ears, uranium firm met with Interior before review]

BLM said it’s specifically prohibited from allowing extraction within the remaining monument’s boundaries.

Separately, the Government Accountability Office is examining whether the department has followed appropriations law in the course of planning future use of land cut from the original monument.

BLM must still issue a record of decision formalizing the plans before they become agency policy.

Dan Hartinger, national monuments campaign director for the Wilderness Society, said his group doesn’t expect the agency to change its mind before that procedural step.

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