A recent move by President Trump to “scale back” two stunningly vast federal land grabs conducted by his predecessors has hit the news, and, as do so many of the small nibbles Trump makes in the ever metastasizing, always omnivorous federal cancer, the action puts ethically-minded people in a quandary.
Following up on an April executive order to have Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke review 27 “National Monuments,” Trump on Monday signed an order to cut back the Dec. 2016 Obama-created Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by eighty percent (1.35 million acres to 201,876 acres). He also signed an order to cut the 1996 Clinton-created Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – also in Utah -- by nearly 50 percent (1.7 million to 1 million). The remainder of Clinton’s giant plaything will be broken into three separate areas: Grand Staircase National Monument, Kaiparowits National Monument, and Escalante Canyons National Monument.
As MRCTV’s Monica Sanchez noted yesterday, this is a significant move that not only reverses much of the politically connected federal grabs by Obama and Clinton, it uses the 1906 Antiquities Act in a way that has stunned collectivists: Trump has decreased the size of land parcels rather than increased them.
This means that the Utah legislature will have the final say about if and how those parcels of land will be used, and it’s at least a tiny nod to the idea of “state control”.
Of course, critics of the move accuse Trump of handing land to oil and coal interests, to loggers, and sundry other evil exploiters who play cozy with the feds to get rights to drill, dig, cut, etc. But this knee-jerk reaction misses two fundamental, and connected, points, which are that the feds' poor management of land upsets many locals, and local people ought to be respected to control their neck of the woods. Just as one would never deem himself or herself so omnipotent as to know what is best for his neighbor’s yard, and would try to associate with neighbors who would afford the same respect in return, so, too, we can see the simple ethics of leaving people in other states to try to handle the land under their state control without us interfering. Why should I, in New Hampshire, have politicians from here tell people in Utah how to handle land I likely will never visit, or, if I do, will visit only for a brief time?
As Trump said:
Families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best, and you know the best how to take care of your land and how to conserve this land for many generations to come.
Certainly, one would prefer to see the land handled on the free market, rather than run by state politicians. Such private ownership would, by definition, show real interests and desires of people, and reveal what folks value and how the land should be used or preserved, but at least Trump’s move shifts the power focus closer to the people concerned, and away from federal politicians.
It also disrupts a string of corrupt, anti-constitutional moves by prior presidents that upset Utahans, and that, in Clinton’s case, left the bulk share of the world’s richest clean-burning coal in the hands of the Lippo Group – which just happened to be intimately involved in the Clinton election back in the ‘90s.
But what the move does not do causes principled people to pause.
The action in Utah does not challenge the unconstitutional 1906 Antiquities Act.
Is that asking too much?
Perhaps. Perhaps we who believe in leaving our neighbors in peace and ask the same of them are too demanding when we see the new President cutting back on arrogant Presidential actions of the past, and we should be pleased for practical reasons that, at least this time, folks in the state of Utah (and possibly more to come) have the opportunity to “decide” in their legislatures and bureaucracies how the land near them will be husbanded.
But one feels impelled to note, as I have for MRCTV previously, that the Antiquities Act is not sanctioned by any sentence, word, or syllable in the supposed rulebook of the federal government, the U.S. Constitution. In fact, the Congress is only granted the power to control territories, the area of Washington D.C., and land being used for “federal garrisons." Once territories enter the union, they enter with the "full rights and privileges of states", according to the Constitution, and, as a result, are not required to cede land to the feds.
The term “national monument” is alien to anyone who reads the constitution as it was written.
So a president who cuts back on egregious and insulting, self-congratulatory land grabs made by his predecessors deserves some credit, but he has not gone far enough to uphold his oath. And this is important to those folks who believe that the constitution is the “law of the land,” as the politicians in D.C. tell us all the time.
What’s the takeaway? Is it a net plus, allowing more “local control,” and asking the forbearance of strict-constructionists? Perhaps it is. But even as those strict-constructionists acknowledge the relative improvement, one hopes that they continue to make the larger point. Only through that means can more people be shown the illegitimate and illicit power-madness of Presidents who put state land under Bureau of Land Management control.
The “monuments” those presidents create are monuments to deceit and usurpation, and should be revealed as such -- as often as possible.
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(Image source: Murray Foubister, via Flickr)