U.S. President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to review the previous administrations’ use of the Antiquities Act, that has, among others, locked large swaths of U.S. offshore areas for potential oil and gas exploration.
Trump, who signed the executive order at the Department of Interior office, has authorized the DOI secretary Ryan Zinke to review the prior monument designations and to suggest legislative changes or modifications to the monuments.
At a press briefing a day before the signing of the order, Secretary Zinke said the monument designation period the order applies to stretches from 1 January 1996 under which the act — and it has to include acts and monuments that are 100,000 acres or more.
“That should include about 24 to 40 monuments,” Zinke explained.
To remind, some Republican senators, such as Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, have slammed the use of the Antiquities Act by the previous administration.
Former president Obama, using his executive powers, has been said to have designated more acreage as a national monument that the previous 18 presidents combined. Once an area has been deemed a national monument any new activities in the area such as oil, gas, and mining operations are prohibited.
Lisa Murkowski has been critical of the Obama’s “unilateral” acreage withdrawals using the national monument designations.
Murkowski in January said the Antiquities Act had become Obama’s tool to sidestep Congress and “create sweeping conservation areas despite opposition from local residents.”
“The Obama administration alone has now designated a total of 554 million acres—equal to 865,625 square miles, an area five times the size of California—onshore and offshore as national monuments,” Murkowski said in January, calling for a reformation of the National Monument Designation Process Act.
Murkowski’s wishes seem to have come true.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 26, 2017
Trump slams “egregious abuse of federal power”
In his speech ahead of the signing of the executive order on Wednesday to review the previous national monuments designation President Trump said: ”Today, I am signing a new executive order to end another egregious abuse of federal power, and to give that power back to the states and to the people, where it belongs.”
“The previous administration used a 100-year-old law known as the Antiquities Act to unilaterally put millions of acres of land and water under strict federal control — have you heard about that? — eliminating the ability of the people who actually live in those states to decide how best to use that land. “
“Today, we are putting the states back in charge. It’s a big thing. Altogether, the previous administration bypassed the states to place over 265 million acres — that’s a lot of land, million acres. Think of it — 265 million acres of land and water under federal control through the abuse of the monuments designation. That’s larger than the entire state of Texas.”
“The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time we ended this abusive practice. “
“I’ve spoken with many state and local leaders — a number of them here today — who care very much about preserving our land, and who are gravely concerned about this massive federal land grab. And it’s gotten worse and worse and worse, and now we’re going to free it up, which is what should have happened in the first place. This should never have happened. “
“That’s why today I am signing this order and directing Secretary Zinke to end these abuses and return control to the people — the people of Utah, the people of all of the states, the people of the United States.“
All for oil?
The executive order directs Zinke and the DOI to make recommendations to the President on whether a monument should be rescinded, resized, modified in order to better manage our federal lands.
“I think the concern that I have and the President has that when you designate a monument, the local community that’s affected should have a voice. And he said that in the campaign, he said that American citizens should have a voice. The little community, the loggers, the fishermen, those areas that are affected should have a say and a voice,” Zinke said.
Zinke was asked to comment on a scenario where the order has been put in place to set the stage for “an assault on public lands” for the purposes of oil and gas development.
He said: “I’ve heard that many times about — and I think it’s the modern media that we live in today. We’re so polarized as a country, and action is perceived as doing something that’s not — and this, the executive order is carefully crafted to review. It doesn’t predispose an outcome…the core of this is to make sure the public has a voice. That’s who I work for. That’s who the President works for, is the people. And that’s — love to get the people a voice on that. But I think it’s a false narrative that we’re going to predispose any particular action until the review.”
Lisa Murkowski, a long time oil and gas development advocate, was present during the executive order signing ceremony.
She said: “I strongly support President Trump’s order to review the largest national monuments designated over the past two decades,” Murkowski said. “During the past administration, we saw the Antiquities Act result in sweeping designations that frequently ignored local opposition. This review is a good step forward in our efforts to reform the monument designation process to ensure the concerns of those who stand to be impacted are heard and respected.”
Offshore focus on Friday
All in all, not much has been said specifically on oil and gas either by Trump or Zinke during the Antiquities Act speeches, however, more on this is expected on Friday.
Namely, the U.S. media have reported that Trump will on Friday issue an executive order to expand offshore drilling in the U.S., aiming to overturn the Obama administration actions that have closed millions of acres of offshore areas for future exploration drilling in the Atlantic and the U.S. Arctic waters.
The Obama administration in November 2016 removed the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, offshore Alaska, from the proposed 2017-2022 offshore oil and gas lease sale program. Obama then in mid-December blocked parts of the Bering Sea from any future drilling, via an executive order delineating a part of the Bering Sea as the “Northern Bering Sea Climate Resiliance Area.”
A few days later, the Obama administration made 3.8 million acres in the north and mid-Atlantic Ocean off the U.S. East Coast and 115 million acres in the U.S. Arctic Ocean be unavailable for oil and gas companies.