Trump Giving Away National Monuments to Mining Companies in Despicable New ‘Gold Rush’

It looks like there is no stopping it now. The modern-day gold rush is on. While everyday folks with a pickaxe and a dream are eligible, just as they were in the 1800’s, this is hardly populism. Massive mining companies stand to gain vast untapped lands to pillage.

President Donald Trump is ignoring pleas from conservationists and environmentalists. He is also ignoring local tribal leaders and even the United Nations’ expert on indigenous rights. That is not unexpected. If he has no concern for America’s oceans and coastlines, which he opened to drilling, why would he care about ancient rocks and tribal lands? And of course he certainly has no time to listen to Democrats, even if some elected officials represent the areas he opened to mining.

The Trump 2018 Gold Rush is on

So, at 6 AM this Friday, citizens (and more importantly, mining companies) can begin staking claims in sections of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah that President Trump recently “unprotected” in his ceaseless attempt to erase anything President Barack Obama accomplished.

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President Trump issued Executive Order 13792, the “Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act,” last April. The Order directs the Secretary of the Interior to review designations of national monuments made since 1996. Secretary Ryan Zinke previously advocated for transferring federal land to the states and against environmental regulations, so it was a good bet that he would suggest that Trump should roll the designations back. While the land is merely being unprotected now and not transferred to the states, Trump hinted at that next step in his statement at the time.

“Families and communities of Utah know and love this land the best, and you know the best how to take care of your land and how to conserve this land.”

The key factor in the Order is the effective date, 1996. Why would Trump choose such a date?

like most trump grievances, this one is about Barack Obama

The answer is as simple as it is ugly. Bill Clinton made 19 designations under the act. But none in his first term. All came in 1996 or later. Neither George H. W. Bush nor Ronald Reagan made a single designation. Nor did Richard Nixon or Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter made several, but all small, and in Alaska. So while the Order may read 1996, it effectively stretches all the way back to the 1960’s. Geography matters. Of Clinton’s nineteen designations, all but three are from Colorado west. George W. Bush made six designations, one in New York, the rest in Hawaii,  American Samoa, and Guam. Barack Obama made twenty-nine designations, sixteen from Colorado west. A full list of all protected monuments is found here.

Simply put, in the last 50 years, Republican presidents have either not made designations, or made them sparingly and in isolated locations. Democratic presidents have applied designations liberally, protecting huge swaths of the west from mining and development. That does not sit well with Republicans. And they support Trump’s decision even if no one else does.

Per the General Mining Law of 1872, as reported by Reuters, the process is fairly simple.

A prospector hammers four poles into the ground corresponding to the four points of a parcel that can be as big as 20 acres, and attaches a written description of the claim onto one of them. A prospector then has 30 days to record the claim at the local Bureau of Land Management office. There is a $212 filing fee, and an annual maintenance fee of $150. The claims provide prospectors mineral rights, with no requirement to pay the government royalties, but not ownership of the land.

like the cavalry riding in, Democrats fight back

United States Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) has introduced an updated Antiquities Act seeking to strengthen the existing Act to prevent further actions by Trump and Zinke. But Republicans control the Senate, so it will likely never get a vote. And even if it does, it may be too late to save many of these environmentally sensitive and historically significant places.

Some trivia:

“Thar’s gold in them thar hills.” The line, which sounds like something out of a wild west comic book, actually has more refined literary roots. Mulberry Sellers, a character in Mark Twain’s “The American Claimant” coined the phrase. Legend has it, Dr. Matthew Fleming Stephenson inspired the Sellers character. Stephenson was an assayer in Dahlonega, GA, which had a gold rush of its own in the 1840’s. His claim, about gold in the Georgia hills, ended with, “and there’s millions in it.” Stephenson, however, could not persuade prospectors from bolting for California’s more lucrative gold rush.

Featured Image Photo by George Frey/Getty Images.