Trump Guts Two National Monuments in Utah, Assaulting Native Americans and the Environment

December 5, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

On Monday, December 4, Donald Trump flew to Salt Lake City, Utah, to announce his decision to end federal protection on more than two million acres of public land and potentially open them up for oil and gas exploration, logging, and coal and uranium mining. Bears Ears National Monument was cut by 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half.

It is the largest single elimination of public land protections in American history, and will cause cultural damage and environmental destruction that will possibly never be undone.

Both monuments are amazing places, filled with natural wonders and stunningly beautiful vistas. The areas have important historical significance for the Native peoples who live in that part of the Southwest—their ancestors have inhabited the area for at least 5,000 years. Experts estimate there are over 100,000 archeological sites of prehistoric stone cliff dwellings and rock art in Bears Ears alone, and many Native peoples today consider the areas to have important cultural and religious meaning to them.

There is also important scientific and ecological significance to the area. Grand Staircase-Escalante is reportedly the single best place in North America for scientists to study in detail the causes of dinosaur extinction. Bears Ears is home to at least 18 plants and animals listed on the Endangered Species List and plays a crucial role in ecological functions and sensitive habitat in the region as a whole.

Opening Up the Area to “Big Energy”

But the two areas also contain potentially valuable oil, gas and mineral reserves beneath the scenic cliffs and canyons. Establishment of the two monuments incurred the wrath of reactionary politicians and corporate drilling, mining and logging interests from the outset. They saw the monuments as a direct threat to unrestrained exploitation (whatever the cost in inevitable destruction) of environmentally sensitive places.

The Trump/Pence regime has been hell-bent on massive expansion of the energy industry since it came into office. Opening up protected public and tribal lands to exploitation has played a central part, with Utah senator Orrin Hatch acting as point man for much of this. When Trump appointed Ryan Zinke to head the Interior Department, Hatch said his support for Zinke rested almost solely on “his willingness to work with our congressional delegation to help us clean up the mess the Obama administration created in San Juan County” where Bears Ears is located (Obama had signed the measure establishing the national monument).

The decision to slash Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante was rumored ever since Trump’s April executive order directing Zinke to look into wholesale reductions of these protected areas—an executive order widely called the “Hatch E.O.” after Senator Hatch. In fact, Hatch met with Donald Trump, Jr., Trump’s son, shortly before the presidential election—and just before Obama designated Bears Ears as a national monument—to begin plotting ways to undermine and reverse the expected decision.

Oil and gas companies have expressed interest in leasing more than 100,000 acres inside monument boundaries since 2013. Coal mining interests have been drooling for decades over the possibility of turning the Kaiparowits area in Grand Staircase-Escalante into a gigantic coal strip mine. And there are already rumors that the Trump regime plans to reduce six more national monuments in the near future or at least open them up to energy exploration, mining and logging.

Killing Impact of Uranium Mining

Uranium interests have long wanted to expand mining operations in the southwestern U.S., an area with some of the largest uranium reserves in the country, including inside the former Bears Ears boundaries. And this has intersected with larger capitalist-imperialist interests to expand the reach of U.S. empire around the world.

A commission set up by the Utah legislature sent a letter to Zinke in May 2017 warning that Bears Ears posed a threat to national security and that “[t]he continued operation of White Mesa mill [the only working uranium mill in the country, located just outside the Bears Ears boundary] is critical to the operation of our nuclear naval fleet and our nuclear triad, and therefore vital to our national security. The Monument threatens its existence.”

Let’s be clear: The U.S. already has more, and more powerful, nuclear weapons than any nation on earth. It is the only country to ever use a nuclear weapon, dropping two of them on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II and killing up to 200,000 civilians. And now Trump openly threatens a massive first strike nuclear attack on North Korea. This past summer Trump reportedly told a gathering of the nation’s highest ranking national security leaders that he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Bears Ears and other sources of uranium in the southwest are viewed as essential to that effort.

The poisonous effects of uranium mining also have a long and sordid history, particularly among the Navajo and other Native peoples of the southwest. For nearly four and a half decades beginning in the early 1940s, the U.S. government extracted over four million tons of uranium ore from the Navajo reservation—first to build the bombs dropped on Japan, and then for several decades afterward to construct literally thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles and other nuclear weapons.

Most of the uranium ore was dug out with picks, shovels and dynamite blasting, with at least 1,500 Navajo men hired to work in the mines for years without any safety protection. Hundreds have died from cancer or other diseases caused by breathing uranium dust in the mines, from contaminated wells as uranium leached into the water table, and from living in stone dwellings built from mill waste—and for nearly the entire time, the government systematically and deliberately didn’t even tell the Navajo about the risk of radiation poisoning. Despite continual promises since the 1990s to clean up over 500 abandoned mines on the reservation and compensate the miners and their families, virtually nothing has been done—and now looks even more unlikely under Trump’s budget plans.

Thousands Protest Trump in Salt Lake City

On Saturday, December 2, 5,000 people rallied in Salt Lake City against Trump’s anticipated moves on the national monuments, with many spelling out “Dump Trump” with their bodies on the State Capitol lawn. And at least 3,000 more converged on Monday when Trump flew into the city, including 250 who “took a knee” in the street in defiance of riot police while hundreds more stood by during the tense confrontation. More protests are planned. And the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition of five southwestern American Indian tribes and a variety of environmental groups have promised to file suit immediately to try to block Trump’s actions.

All this is good and needs to continue. But much more is needed. Trump and the rest of his administration, along with all the other forces supporting his fascist agenda, have far greater crimes in the works. What is required is to move beyond fighting these outrages one by one, and to develop a mass, sustained and growing movement across the country to drive the entire regime from power. The very existence of a livable planet and the people who inhabit it is at stake.




Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.