Emails reveal oil and gas drilling was a key incentive to shrink Utah national monuments

From the start of the Trump administration’s review of national monuments, agency officials were directing staff at the U.S. Department of the Interior to figure out how much coal, oil, and natural gas had been placed off limits by the Bears Ears’ National Monument designation.

Environmental activists and public lands advocates feared Trump was pushing to reduce the size of national monuments to give mineral extractive industries easier access to drill or mine in the protected areas. But they didn’t have any evidence or a smoking gun to prove their theory. Now they do.

According to documents obtained by the New York Times, long before Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended a major reduction in the size of the Bears Ears monument in southeastern Utah, the administration was already eyeing the potential for oil and gas exploration at the site.

Last March, an aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), asked a senior official at the Department of the Interior to consider reduced boundaries for the Bears Ears monument to remove land from protection that contained oil and natural gas deposits.

Hatch’s office sent an email to the Interior Department on March 15, 2017 that included a map depicting a boundary change that would “resolve all known mineral conflicts,” referring to oil and gas sites on the land.

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