This morning, President Trump issued an executive order requiring the Department of Interior to review 21 years of national monument designations. That review is long overdue. For decades, Presidents have treated the Antiquities Act as a blank check to shut down productive activity over vast areas, in the belief that doing so will establish their legacy with powerful environmental groups. The statute has become so notorious for this abuse that The West Wing built an episode around it.
The executive order applies to every monument greater than 100,000 acres designated since President Clinton’s surprise designation of the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument without local input. It also includes the 5,000 square mile (roughly the size of Connecticut) Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument off New England’s coast, which PLF is challenging on behalf of commercial fishermen.
That monument is a prime candidate for reconsideration and demonstrates many of the concerns President Trump and Secretary Zinke expressed during the signing ceremony. The monument is a clear abuse of the Antiquities Act, which expressly limits monuments to federal lands. The Northeast Canyons Monument is more than 130 miles out into the ocean. Not only is it not “land” but it’s also not owned or controlled by the federal government. The monument is also huge and excludes sustainable commercial fishing from the entire area, which could undermine sustainability elsewhere. And the monument was imposed over strong opposition from fishermen who use the area, the regional fishery council that regulates it, and state and federal officials.
The executive order’s review is expected to last 120 days, after which the President will decide whether to reverse any of the monument designations, shrink them, or relax the restrictions that apply to them. Although no prior President has undertaken such a broad review of existing monuments, a recent AEI paper by PLF trustee John Yoo and PLF Senior Fellow in Constitutional Law Todd Gaziano explains why President Trump has the power to review monuments and, if he believes it’s in the nation’s best interest, to undo or substantially shrink them.