Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, one of the benchmarks of Donald Trump’s many promises to his supporters was his pledge to reject the political status quo in office. Now nearing his hundredth day as commander-in-chief, Trump has manifested this unpredictability in a controversial new executive order regarding public land protections, a step which could pave the way for the roll back of the actions of many presidents before him.
News that Trump would be signing the executive order into action at the Interior Department broke Wednesday morning, drawing him closer and closer to his anticipated total of 32 executive orders issued in 99 days, a number which previously hadn’t been seen since WWII. This most recent motion would call forth a review of the enforcement of the laws that give presidents the power to preserve public lands as national monuments, primarily calling into question whether or not the privatization of the land should instead be regulated by individual states.
In previous administrations, this century-old set of legislation (known as the Antiquities Act) had been utilized as a large-scale method of protecting lands from being potentially commercially exploited for their natural resources through allowing the lands to retain the presidentially-bestowed and federally-enforced label of “monument.” The act was first signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt on June 8, 1906, with an initial focus on safeguarding prehistoric Native American ruins, making it the United States’ first general legal effort at physically preserving parts of the country’s the natural, historical, scientific, and cultural landscape.
Since its official activation so many years ago, the Antiquities Act has been honored and put to use by many presidents on all sides of the political aisle in broadly varying regions of the country. In addition to declaring their own new monuments, it has not been uncommon for presidents to expand on the land previously secured by past administrations, and history has shown that this often transcends party lines. With public attention on the ecological impacts of climate change increasing rapidly in recent years, the amount of land preserved by presidents under the act has been shooting upwards exponentially alongside it, a detail which could heed even more potential impact from the recent policy developments.
Trump’s unprecedented executive order states that it is uniquely intended to push for a thorough review of the terms of the act as it applies to any land reservations exceeding 100,000 acres that have been secured since 1996. This detail particularly threatens major alterations to the presidential legacies of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who collectively preserved just over 770 million acres of the roughly 850 million acres of land that has been monumentalized throughout the decades under the act, with Obama alone being responsible for a whopping 553.3 million of this total.
Mr. Trump has been unreserved in discussing his purposeful targeting of actions made under the authority of the Obama administration, referring to them as an “egregious” method of using the Antiquities Act to”unilaterally” place large amounts of territory under federal control, going on to state that “it’s time we ended this abusive practice.”
Trump has maintained an inconsistent history with the act, however, having previously gone against traditional Republican views by shooting down the concept of a roll back when interviewed by Field & Stream during his time as a presidential candidate.
“I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great.”
Making the Trump administration’s new order all the more unconventional is the fact that a national monument has never once been targeted for removal by a subsequent president of any party affiliation, though the ongoing history of the act has been wrought with varying opposition at the state level. With presidents ranging from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton all having faced struggles with more rural states pushing back against the act’s enforcement, Trump’s crediting of Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch as his inspiration for pushing the skeptical legislation forward serves as the lone aspect of the new order that remains consistent with tradition.
[Featured Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]