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Potential for oil revenue influenced decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument

Potential for oil revenue influenced decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument


The revenue would have gone to fund public schools

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Two Utah National Momments Under Review By Deparetment of Interior
Photo by George Frey / Getty Images

The potential for oil money influenced the Trump administration’s decision to shrink Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, according to internal agency documents obtained by The New York Times.

Back in December, Trump made massive cuts to several Utah monuments, following the recommendation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and angering conservationists and native tribes in the area. Discussions around the cuts to Bears Ears — motivated by the potential for oil money — were happening as early as early as March 2017, about a month before Zinke started reviewing the monuments, according to documents obtained by the Times.

Then, an aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) emailed Zinke’s chief of staff for policy, Downey Magallanes, to point out that the suggested new boundaries (shown in an attached PDF) would resolve current “mineral conflicts.” The borders on the PDF map were essentially adopted when Trump made his decision.

However, the “mineral conflicts” began before the Trump administration. Utah has long generated revenue from its lands to fund its public schools, usually by allowing private companies to have mineral rights. When President Barack Obama created the Bears Ears National Monument at the end of 2017, 110,000 acres of land was no longer available as sources of revenue for schools, which concerned the Utah State Board of Education. This land is now a source of revenue again, though as John Andrews, associate director of the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, told the Times, Trump shrunk the monument by more than they had requested.