We can take time to do it right or just keep changing on a whim
One week into the Biden administration, it is clear that our spectacular little corner of the world will continue to be impacted by the actions of the federal government in Washington, D.C.
President Joe Biden follows Presidents Trump and Obama – for the third Administration in a row – in showing particular interest in the public lands in San Juan County.
The latest executive order calls for a review of the boundaries and conditions of Bears Ears National Monument, which was created by Obama in 2016 and shrunk by Trump in 2017.
Before making a third round of wholesale changes to the management of public land in San Juan County, I hope the decision-makers wait until a key lawsuit is resolved.
Soon after President Trump shrunk the boundaries of Bears Ears, a host of organizations filed a lawsuit arguing that the President does not have power to reduce the size of a national monument.
The lawsuit, now more than three years old, is slowly making its way through the court. The lawsuit asks a key question that should be answered about executive use of the Antiquities Act.
In 1906, Congress passed the Antiquities Act, which grants the executive branch the right to make unilateral actions to protect threatened antiquities. The boundaries of the Act have been challenged and expanded by subsequent administrations.
Now, the judicial branch is deciding the power of the executive branch to make decisions that the Constitution clearly indicates should be made by the legislative branch.
Either way, if executive action is the way we govern in these dysfunctional times, it appears to me that the Biden Administration holds all the keys.
Frankly, if the court rules that Trump did not have the authority to change the designation, Bears Ears will likely revert to the initial boundaries.
And if the court rules that Trump did have the authority to make the change, the new Administration can use the same authority to make a subsequent change.
Either way is not the best solution. I believe the long-term solution to these difficult questions should rely on legislative action through Congress rather than the changing whims of an executive branch.
From my perspective, there is still the opportunity to take time and find a good long-term solution.
The on-the-ground reality is that the Bears Ears country has not yet been overrun, as many had feared.
Despite the fears of the environmental and tribal entities, there have simply been few, if any, attempts by oil, gas, and uranium companies to access the land.
Similarly, aside from a few locations such as the House on Fire ruin, I have not seen significant impacts to the land by visitors.
Please take the time and do it right!