By Kellen Bulger
The Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone Access Pipeline were two humongous environmental justice issues which we saw come to the forefront again at the inception of the Trump Administration in 2017. It looks as though we can add another one to the list, as newly surfaced Department of Interior emails show that the agency’s primary concern regarding the Bears Ears monument was its potential for oil and gas extraction.
It has already been known for some time that the areas in which the Trump administration cut out from the existing monument were potentially rich in oil, coal and uranium, as reported by the Washington Post back in December. However, it was not known that the agency’s primary goal was for non-renewable energy source extraction.
The White House’s dismissal of native land rights and furthering of fossil fuel use certainly doesn’t come as a surprise, however should it serve as a warning sign of things to come in the future?
The U.S. Federal Government owns about 28 percent of land in the country and the vast majority of all that federally owned land sits in the western U.S. While some of this land is owned by federal agencies who don’t have extensive histories of merely selling off land to be drilled, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) already does lease land out in the West for oil and gas extraction. The BLM owns a further 247 million acres of land in the American West that could theoretically fall to the same fate under the current administration.
This brings us back to the Bears Ears monument. In one of the many emails released from the Interior Department, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s staff was shown to have asked two BLM officials for information in regards to a uranium mill within the monument’s grounds. In further reports, Utah’s BLM had information that attested to greater than 300 uranium mining claim requests within the Bears Ears monument grounds.
And how did Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his team respond to these claims that they are attempting to ravage these historically native lands? Zinke claimed “there is no mine within Bears Ears,” despite the blatant, factual information proving the Trump appointees differing plans.
The federal government owns almost half of the land in eleven western states, as well as and nearly sixty percent in Alaska according to the Congressional Research Service. This pales in comparison to the rest of the U.S. where only four percent of the land is federally held.
With that being said, we are entrusting an immense amount of power to federal agencies and officials above them when it comes to the management of our natural environment out West. And in an era in which our president has suggested opening up libel laws to sue journalists who give us these very reports on how are public lands are being threatened, many see the process of questioning appointees like Zinke who struggle to tell us what is and what isn’t being threatened and for what use, as far from radical.