Environmental firm Advocates of the West filed a lawsuit last month asking a judge to compel the government to turn over 12 withheld pages from documents about national monuments. It’s believed they could contain a legal justification for reducing several western monuments.
The Justice Department says the information on the 12 missing pages is protected communications subject to attorney-client privilege and intra-agency communication rules. That means it falls outside the purview of Advocates of the West’s Freedom of Information Act request.
The group believes the withheld documents contain the legal reasoning the government will use to shrink a handful of national monuments. While small reductions have taken place in the past, neither the Secretary of the Interior nor the president has attempted it. Boise State environmental policy professor John Freemuth says that’s because of a House report from 1976.
“Congress seems to pretty clearly imply that their view is that only they can change the size of a national monument,” according to Freemuth. “They’re very explicit that the Secretary can’t, but they seem to imply that the president cannot as well.”
While not legislation, Freemuth says a House report provides some of clearest intent possible.
The DOJ wants the lawsuit seeking the 12 pages dismissed. A few of the monuments facing the chopping block are Utah’s Bears Ears, Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou and Gold Butte in Nevada.
Freemuth says the majority of legal scholars believe the president doesn’t have the authority to dramatically redraw monument boundaries.
“The game will be begin, or will be afoot, if President Trump actually does something,” he says. “It’s all moot right now unless he does something. Then, the legal arguments will begin and it’ll be quite a political show.”
Freemuth believes whatever happens will probably set a precedent for national monuments.
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