June 17, 2019

Udall, McCollum Announce GAO Opening Investigation into Whether Trump Interior Dept. Violated Law with National Monument Leasing Activities

Udall, McCollum requested investigation after Interior Dept. carried out oil, gas & coal development activities within Grand Staircase, a potential violation of prohibitions against using funds for resource development within historic boundaries of national monuments?

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the ranking member and chair of the U.S. Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, announced the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) will open an investigation into whether the Trump Interior Department is violating longstanding prohibitions against using appropriated funds for oil, gas, and coal development activities within the historic boundaries the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Specifically, GAO will investigate Interior’s potentially unlawful actions to identify areas for oil, gas, and coal development within the historic boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. ? 

“I welcome GAO’s decision to open an investigation into these seemingly unlawful actions by the Trump Interior Department. National monuments like Grand Staircase-Escalante protect some of our most spectacular wilderness areas and breathtaking lands, and it is imperative that the Department manage them in accordance with the laws passed by Congress. In the interest of preserving the rule of law, safeguarding taxpayer funds from mismanagement, and protecting a national treasure from permanent damage, the department should suspend all further work on the proposed management plan for Grand Staircase-Escalante until GAO is able to make a determination on this issue,” said Udall.

“The environmental damage this administration would inflict on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is outrageous and precisely what the legislative prohibition was meant to guard against. But equally outrageous is this administration’s blatant disregard for the law and the Constitution,” McCollum said. “It’s been a well-settled fact for more than two hundred years that Congress sets public policy in this country and decides how taxpayer dollars are spent. I am confident that GAO will support our position and will reaffirm that the actions being taken by the Interior Department are in violation of the plain language carried in the appropriations bill.”

As Udall and McCollum observed in their original letter requesting the investigation, Interior’s decision to actively prepare for oil, gas, and coal leasing may violate a longstanding, 17-year old restriction on these very kinds of activities within the original and historic boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument—a restriction that Congress imposed following President Clinton’s designation of the monument that limited resource extraction. Since 2002, every Interior appropriations act has carried this provision, a provision designed to protect the original monument that recognized this “vast and austere” landscape whose “unspoiled landscape” is a geologic, paleontological, and scientific wonder. This appropriations provision is so broad, in fact, that it prohibits a whole suite of oil, gas, and coal planning activities “as the monument existed on January 20, 2001.” Put differently, congressional appropriations language prevents any oil, gas, and coal preleasing, leasing, or related activities within the national monument as it existed when President Clinton first designated and protected the area.? 

Udall and McCollum believe that the Trump administration has likely violated these clear Congressional prohibitions by spending appropriated funds on a range of oil, gas and coal development activities within the 2001 boundaries of Grand Staircase. Following President Trump’s reduction of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument—an action currently challenged by Udall and McCollum, along with other members of the House and Senate, in an amicus curiae brief in litigation brought by outside organizations—the Interior Department has moved forward with resource development planning activities within the monument as President Clinton had originally designated. Udall and McCollum called attention to these potentially unlawful activities, including the identification of potential areas for leasing, citing long-standing appropriations law. ?

The full text of Udall and McCollum’s request to GAO, including detailed explanations of their arguments, is available here.