The First Step for Revoking President Obama’s Land Grab

Mike Lee
Mike Lee
May 1, 2017 · 3 min read

What is done by executive power can be undone by executive power.

President Obama began to learn that lesson last Wednesday when President Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to conduct a review of all Antiquities Act designations larger than 100,000 acres over the past 30 years.

Specifically, the executive order directs Secretary Zinke to consider “the requirements and original objectives of the Act, including the Act’s requirement that reservations of land not exceed ‘the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected’” and whether “designated lands are appropriately classified under the Act as ‘historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, [or] other objects of historic or scientific interest.’”

This wording strongly suggests that President Obama’s lame duck decision to designate 1.35 million acres in San Juan County as a national monument will at least be significantly reduced and possibly entirely rescinded.

Some environmental activists may claim that President Trump does not have the power to shrink or revoke President Obama’s Antiquities Act designations, but these claims are ignorant of both history and the law.

For starters, as University of California Berkeley Law School professor John Yoo and Pacific Legal Foundation Executive Director John Gaziano detailed in a recent legal report, five presidents have significantly reduced four previous monument designations and no one has ever questioned the legality of those reductions.

Specifically, President Eisenhower reduced the Great Sand Dunes National Monument by 25 percent, President Truman reduced the Santa Rosa Island National Monument by 49 percent, Presidents Taft, Wilson, and Coolidge collectively reduced the Mount Olympus monument by 49 percent, and President Taft reduced the Navajo National Monument by 89 percent.

A current president’s power to alter a previous president’s flows from the text of the statute which authorizes the president “in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation… national monuments…. the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

As Yoo and Gaziano point out, “there is no temporal limit” on the requirement that a monument must be limited to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected” so all presidents must use their ongoing discretion as to whether every monument is the proper size.

Furthermore, what if a later president determines that an earlier president’s designation was so exceedingly beyond the “smallest area compatible with proper care ” that the entire designation was illegal? Yoo and Gaziano argue that the entire monument designation could be revoked.

Whatever Sec. Zinke does end up recommending to President Trump, and a preliminary report is due in 45 days on Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, further executive action will only be the beginning of solving San Juan County’s public lands issues.

Congress will then need to pick up the Public Lands Initiative legislation that was working through the House before President Obama derailed the legislative process and pass a common sense solution that includes real input from local residents. Only through the legislation can local residents, including the Navajo, be given real power over their land use decisions.

Mike Lee

Written by

Mike Lee

I am a United States Senator from the great state of Utah. Please help me restore constitutional leadership to Washington!

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade