AP

Watchdog To Investigate Interior Moves On Utah Monument

Jun 17, 2019, 9:24 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 5:05 pm
ESCALANTE, UT - MAY 10:  A camper makes its way down Highway 12 in the Grand Staircase-Escalante Na...
ESCALANTE, UT - MAY 10: A camper makes its way down Highway 12 in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on May 10, 2017 outside Escalante, Utah. The newly created Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are under review by the Trump Administration to help determine their future status. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A government watchdog will investigate whether the U.S. Interior Department broke the law by making plans to open lands cut from a Utah national monument by President Donald Trump to leasing for oil, gas and coal development, a pair of Democratic congress members said Monday.

The Government Accountability Office’s investigation into whether the Interior violated the appropriations law by using funds to assess potential resource extraction in the lands cut from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is the latest chapter in a long-running saga over the sprawling monument created in 1996 on lands home to scenic cliffs, canyons, dinosaur fossils and coal reserves.

Trump slashed the monument by nearly half in 2017 following a contentious review by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke of monuments around the country. Trump ordered the review based on arguments by him and others that a law signed by President Theodore Roosevelt allowing presidents to declare monuments had been improperly used to protect wide expanses of lands instead of places with particular historical or archaeological value.

The GAO investigation comes after U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, both Democrats, requested the investigation in May. They argue that a section of the appropriations law on the books since 2002 states that no taxpayer money can be used to do pre-leasing studies on lands in monuments that were created by Jan. 20, 2001.

Last year, the Interior made public proposals for managing Grand Staircase, saying its preference for one of the sites would be the “least restrictive to energy and mining development.” That plan also would allow commercial timber harvesting to keep forests healthy.

The public comment period closed on the proposals and the Bureau of Land Management’s website says it intends to finalize the plans later this year.

Interior Department Press Secretary Molly Block said in a statement the agency will provide “factual information” to the GAO and is “confident” the probe will determine the Interior “acted appropriately and within the law.”

GAO spokesman Charles Young confirmed the inquiry. He said it’s too early to known how long the probe into the legal question will take.

Trump in 2017 also downsized the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, but that won’t be part of the GAO’s inquiry because it was created in 2016 by President Barack Obama.

Environmental, tribal, paleontological and outdoor recreation organizations have separate lawsuits pending to restore the full sizes of the monuments, arguing presidents don’t have the legal authority to undo or change monuments created by predecessors.

Udall and McCollum announced the GAO investigation in a joint news release. Udall is the ranking member of the Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittees on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. McCollum is chair of the same committee in the House.

Udall called on the Interior to halt work on proposed management plans until the GAO makes its determination on the legal question.

“National monuments like Grand Staircase-Escalante protect some of our most spectacular wilderness areas and breathtaking lands, and it is imperative that the Department manage them in accordance with the laws passed by Congress,” Udall said in the news release.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

AP

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 26: Bleu speak onstage during the 2022 BET Awards at Microsoft Theat...
JONATHAN LANDRUM Jr. AP Entertainment Writer

Stars use BET Awards stage to criticize Roe v. Wade ruling

Big stars used the BET Awards stage to strongly criticize the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strip away women’s constitutional protection for abortion.
20 hours ago
FILE (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)...
Associated Press

Tie in Alabama GOP race means winner to be selected by lot

Alabama's Republican Party has declared a tie in the primary race for a state Senate seat and says the winner will be chosen by lot.
20 hours ago
FILE - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks with reporters following a closed-door...
LISA MASCARO AP Congressional Correspondent

As Senate-confirmed justices end Roe, how will voters react?

The end of Roe v. Wade started in the Senate. The Senate Republican partnership with President Donald Trump to confirm conservative justices paved the way for the Supreme Court's landmark ruling on abortion rights.
20 hours ago
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 16: (L-R) Governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem speaks as U.S. President D...
HOPE YEN, Associated Press

SD gov: Bar abortion pills, but don’t punish women for them

South Dakota’s Republican governor pledged on Sunday to bar mail-order abortion pills but said women should not face prosecution for seeking them.
20 hours ago
FILE (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for UNITAS)...
Associated Press

Off-duty officer charged with assault at abortion protest

A Rhode Island police officer accused of punching a woman at an abortion protest while off-duty has now been charged.
20 hours ago
FILE: Bison roaming. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)...
FELICIA FONSECA Associated Press

No volunteers to downsize Grand Canyon bison herd this fall

Grand Canyon National Park has decided not to extend a pilot project this fall that used volunteers to kill bison to downsize the herd.
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

hand holding 3d rendering mobile connect with security camera for security solutions...
Les Olson

Wondering what security solutions are right for you? Find out more about how to protect your surroundings

Physical security helps everyone. Keep your employees, clients, and customers safe with security solutions that protect your workplace.
Many rattan pendant lights, hay hang from the ceiling.Traditional and simple lighting....
Lighting Design

The Best Ways to Style Rattan Pendant Lighting in Your Home

Rattan pendant lights create a rustic and breezy feel, and are an easy way to incorporate this hot trend into your home decor.
Earth day 2022...
1-800-GOT-JUNK?

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
Watchdog To Investigate Interior Moves On Utah Monument