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Trump Opens National Monument Land to Energy Exploration

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday finalized plans to allow mining and energy drilling on nearly a million acres of land in southern Utah that had once been protected as part of a major national monument.

The Interior Department’s release of a formal land-use blueprint for the approximately 861,974 acres of land will allow oil, gas and coal companies to complete the legal process for leasing mines and wells on land that had once been part of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, established by President Bill Clinton.

In December 2017, President Trump cut the monument’s acreage about in half, aiming to open the newly unprotected land for drilling and development. At the same time, he removed about a million acres from another Utah monument, Bears Ears. Together, the moves were the largest rollback of public lands protection in United States history.

The land carved from the Bears Ears monument, which was established in 2016 by President Barack Obama, has been open for companies to begin the oil and gas leasing process for some time. Because that land had been protected for less than a year, Interior Department officials said, reversal was quick.

Trump administration officials said Thursday’s move was a win for the Utah economy.

“The approved plans keep the commitment of this administration to the families and communities of Utah that know and love this land the best and will care for these resources for many generations to come,” said Casey Hammond, the Interior Department’s acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management.

To date, no oil, gas or coal companies have taken any of the legal first steps required to mine or drill on the land, although they could have done so at any time in the months following Mr. Trump’s proclamation that he was removing protection from the land, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department said.

“There has been almost no interest in mining and drilling on the lands excluded from Grand Staircase,” said Kimberly Finch, the spokeswoman.

If a company or individual chooses to explore for minerals or fossil fuels on that land, they could likely purchase a lease from the federal government to mine or drill within a year.

Environmentalists decried the latest step in the Trump administration’s efforts to open public lands to energy exploration.

“These plans are atrocious, and entirely predictable,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director for lands at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They are the latest in a series of insults to these magnificent lands by the Trump administration.”

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