When the Pullman National Monument was created in Chicago in 2015, the federal government worked with everybody from South Side community groups to City Hall to Metra to ensure the project was done in a way that was best for the public.
Now the federal government, prodded by President Donald Trump, shows signs of reversing course, contemplating pulling out of projects like Pullman, and we can only hope the same care is taken to put the public — and not private speculators — first.
Trump is threatening to undo or shrink the federally protected lands and five oceanic environments set aside by his three predecessors. Many of the sites — known as national monuments, as opposed to national parks created by Congress — are expanses of breathtaking beauty, and preserving them for future generations is one of our great national achievements.
Friday is the first day of public comment on what Trump misleadingly calls a “massive federal land grab” that “should never have happened” — the preservation of ecologically or historically sensitive federal land. Trump has ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review protections for all sites over 100,000 acres, but Zinke also will be empowered to review any site, even Pullman, that he deems was set aside without sufficient public “outreach.”
It is entirely appropriate for a president to call for a review of protected federal holdings now and then, although it’s unclear whether any president has power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to overrule decisions made by earlier presidents.
But the review has to be done honestly. It can’t have an underlying agenda to give away protected lands to private interests without good justification, and there is every reason to suspect such an agenda lurks here.
Just as Trump’s claim that his travel ban was not anti-Muslim was belied by comments he made on the campaign trail, so, too, we have reason to fear his endgame for protected federal lands is a give-away to commercial interests, pushed by lobbyists and free-market ideologues. In his order, Trump says preserving federal lands can “curtail economic growth” and “create barriers to achieving energy independence.”
In the case of Pullman, Chicago pushed hard for a national monument designation because the Pullman community needed the boost to help it rebuild. The point was not to “curtail economic growth” but to spark it. People living in the West, home to most of the national monuments in Trump’s cross-hairs, prefer federal protections to the “no trespassing” signs commercial users would erect. A Colorado College poll indicated 80 percent of voters in the West favor protecting the land.
If federal protections are revoked and land is turned over to commercial interests, it is gone forever. Such decisions must not be made at the spur of the moment and behind closed doors in Washington.
To make a comment, go to regulations.gov and enter DOI-2017-0002-0001 in the search bar or write to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20240. Comments on Bears Ears National Monument must be submitted before May 26; all others must be submitted before July 10.