May 22, 2019

Udall, McCollum Request Probe into Whether Trump Interior Dept. Violated Law with National Monument Leasing Activities

Interior Dept. has 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, wrote to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) seeking 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, Udall and McCollum are calling attention to 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.

As Udall and McCollum observed, 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.

But the Trump administration has clearly 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, members of the Senate, the House and 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. 

Today, during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, Udall asked Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt if he was aware of the department’s potential violations of Appropriations Law with pre-leasing activities within Grand Staircase. Video of Udall’s questioning is available here.

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