Interior Department emails show that its decision to shrink the Bears Ears National Monument was largely centered on allowing for oil and gas exploration on the protected site, The New York Times reports.
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah (R) first suggested reductions to the monument that was created under President Obama, citing the vast oil and natural gas deposits under parts of the monument in emails with the department last March.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke opened the department’s controversial inquiry into altering boundaries for national monuments just one month after Hatch’s office provided maps of the reserves on the site.
And Trump’s final decision to shrink the 1.3 million acre Bears Ears monument by nearly 85 percent closely followed the boundaries of the map showing those reserves.
Hatch’s plan aimed to take back mineral rights for land trusts that Utah has used to fund public schools by the extraction of the resources, noting in his emails that the provided map would “resolve all mineral conflicts.”
The monument, designated in 2017 by President Obama, turned 110,000 acres of Utah’s trust lands over to the federal government.
Such designations have been controversial in western states, where they have been described by opponents as land grabs by the federal government.
Another email in April, obtained by The Times in a lawsuit against the agency, requested details on each site’s “annual production of coal, oil, gas and renewables (if any) on site; amount of energy transmission infrastructure on site (if any).”