Press Releases

Press releases are archived according to their release date. For press releases by topic, please see the Issue Positions page.

Washington, D.C.—Senator Orrin Hatch, the senior Republican in the United States Senate, spoke on the Senate floor this evening about what’s next for Bears Ears. In the last few months, Senator Hatch has raised the issue with both Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and President Trump himself. Today, Hatch referenced those meetings in a speech on the Senate floor and emphasized the importance of working with the new administration to fix the damage done by the Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase monument designations.

(What’s Next for Bears Ears—Via YouTube) (Full Speech)

I’ve been working closely with the Trump administration from day one to right the wrongs of previous administrations. Within days of his nomination, I indicated to Secretary Ryan Zinke that undoing the harm caused by the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase monument designations was among my top priorities. In a private meeting in my office, I even told Secretary Zinke that my support for his nomination would depend largely on his commitment to this cause. After gaining assurances from Secretary Zinke that he would work with us in this effort, I was eager to support his confirmation.

Just two weeks later, I found myself in the Oval Office, where I engaged President Trump for over an hour in a wide-ranging discussion that focused specifically on the public lands issue. I have to say, I was amazed at the President’s willingness to help. He listened intently as I relayed the fears and frustrations of thousands in our state who have been personally hurt by the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase monument designations.  I explained the urgency of addressing these devastating measures, and I asked for his help in doing so.

I was encouraged that—unlike his predecessor—President Trump actually took the time to listen and understand the heavy toll of such overreaching actions. Our President even assured me that he stands ready to work with us to fix this disaster. More than any of his predecessors, President Trump understands what’s at stake here. Indeed, in all my years of public service, I have never seen a President so committed to reining in the federal government and so eager to fix the damage done by these overbearing monument designations. We are fortunate now to have the White House on our side in the fight for local control.

 Last year Hatch visited the Bears Ears area, spoke to local Navajo, and pledged to help them fight back against any damage a national monument might do to their communities. [VIDEO]

The Full Speech, as prepared for delivery, is below:

Mr. President, I rise today to speak out against the abuse of executive authority under the Antiquities Act. Over the last two decades, past Presidents have exploited this law in the extreme, using it as pretext to enact some of the most egregious land grabs in our nation’s history. My home state of Utah has been hit especially hard by this federal overreach.

Time and again, Presidents have abused their power under the Antiquities Act to proclaim massive monument designations that lock away millions of acres of public land. The Beehive State has fallen victim to not one but two catastrophic monument designations. These designations were made unilaterally—without any input whatsoever from our congressional delegation or even the local Utahns whose lives would be directly affected by such decisions. Rather than advancing the important cause of conservation, these national monuments have come to symbolize Washington at its worst.

So how did we get here? How did a century-old law—which was intended to give presidents only limited authority to designate special landmarks—become a blunt instrument for executive overreach? 

In answering this question, some background is necessary. In 1906, Congress passed the Antiquities Act, which granted the President limited authority to establish national monuments to protect areas containing “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.” The Antiquities Act was a well-intentioned response to a serious problem: the looting and destruction of cultural and archaeological sites. When applied as intended, the law has been indispensable in preserving our nation’s rich cultural heritage.

But the law has not always been applied as intended; rather, it has been abused, exploited, and distorted beyond all recognition. It has been hijacked by past presidents not to preserve archaeological features but to satisfy special interests and to advance a radical political agenda—all at the expense of states’ rights. By citing their authority under the Antiquities Act, past presidents have seized millions of acres of public land, violating both the spirit, and arguably, the letter of the law.

Mr. President, we need only look at the history of the Antiquities Act and its enactment to see how far we have strayed off course. As with any law, congressional intent is key. On this point, I would like to refer to the House Congressional Record, dated June 5, 1906. When asked how much land would be taken off the market in the Western states by passage of the Antiquities Act, Congressman John Lacey—the bill’s lead sponsor—gave a simple response: “Not Very Much. The bill provides that it shall be the smallest area necessary for the care and maintenance of the objects to be preserved.”

The smallest area necessary. Mr. President, these words are damning in light of recent monument designations, which—far from regulating the smallest area necessary—have sought to restrict the largest area possible.

I wonder what Congressman Lacey would say today if he could see how his bill has been manipulated for extreme partisan ends.

I wonder what he’d say if he could see how his legislation has been exploited by past presidents to lock up entire sections of state land—all without congressional approval.

And I wonder what he’d say about the two most recent monuments designated in Utah: Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante. Together, these two monuments encompass 3.25 million acres—an area roughly the size of the State of Connecticut. To say that Congressman Lacey and his colleagues would be disappointed is an understatement.

In passing the Antiquities Act more than 100 years ago, Congress did not intend to cede undue authority to the executive branch. And they certainly did not intend for future presidents to proclaim the massive land grabs of recent past. They intended to give presidents only limited authority to designate special landmarks, such as a unique natural arch or the site of old cliff dwellings. Yet today, when it comes to the Antiquities Act, there is a shocking disparity between what Congress intended and what has actually happened.

As a case in point, look no further than my home state of Utah, where President Obama’s last-minute, lame-duck monument designation at Bears Ears is wreaking havoc on the local population. In the parting shot of his presidency, President Obama defied the entire Utah congressional delegation and the will of his own constituents when he declared the Bears Ears National Monument. With the stroke of a pen, he locked away an astonishing 1.35 million acres—a geographic area larger than the total acreage of all five of Utah’s national parks combined. And if that’s not enough, consider that Utah’s second most recent national monument, the Grand Staircase-Escalante, spans 1.9 million acres. That’s an area double the size of all of Utah’s national parks combined.

When President Clinton proclaimed the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument more than 20 years ago, I remember standing on this very floor, speaking out then just as I am speaking out now. My words back then are just as applicable today. I said:

“While the 1906 Antiquities Act may, indeed, give the President the literal authority to take this action, it is quite clear to me that in using this authority, [he] is violating the spirit of US environmental laws …. [R]eal damage has been done here…The failure even to consult prior to making this decision should be considered devastating to representative democracy.”

To this day, the Grand Staircase proclamation remains among the most flagrant abuses of presidential power I have ever seen. Without so much as a “by your leave” from Utahns, this unilateral action cut off access to millions of acres of land, suffocating economic development and uprooting the lives of thousands of Utahns who relied on the region’s resources for their very survival. And just like Bears Ears, this designation came with no input from Utah’s Governor, the Utah Congressional delegation, or even local communities.

The Grand Staircase monument designation exemplified executive overreach of the worst kind. Even Democrats were stunned by this shocking power grab. And many of them conceded to me privately what I was then shouting publicly: The President was never meant to set aside millions of acres through the Antiquities Act.

Even the San Francisco Chronicle—by no means a conservative newspaper—panned President Clinton’s Grand Staircase proclamation. In 1996, the editorial board stated:

“The question is whether a decision of such magnitude should be carried out by executive order. We think not. This may well be a worthy idea, but it deserves a fair hearing. It deserves to go through public deliberations—as slow and messy as democracy may be—to fully air the concerns...”

Mr. President, that was more than twenty years ago. In the intervening period, nothing has changed. Bears Ears was Grand Staircase all over again. When President Obama declared the Bears Ears National Monument in the twilight hours of his presidency, he ignored the years of work that Utah’s congressional delegation had spent fighting to pass legislation to protect the region via a fair and open process. He ignored the state legislature and the governor. He ignored the stakeholders and even local Utahns who were all working together to find a workable solution. He ignored the best interests of Utah and cast aside the will of the people—all in favor of a top-down, unilateral approach meant to satisfy the demands of far-left interest groups.

Mr. President, this is executive hubris at its worst.

It was never supposed to be this way. Congress—not the President—is solely responsible under the Constitution for the management of property and land within the federal domain. Only through passage of the Antiquities Act did Congress grant authority to the President to make limited monument designations. Congress entrusted the executive branch with narrow authority, but the executive branch has violated that trust time and time again.

For years, I have fought to check the abuse of executive power under the Antiquities Act. As far back as 1997—in the aftermath of the Grand Staircase proclamation—I introduced legislation requiring an Act of Congress before the President could establish any national monument of more than 5,000 acres. And as early as last year—in anticipation of the imminent Bears Ears debacle—I wrote a bill prohibiting any further extension or establishment of national monuments  in Utah without express authorization from Congress.

Most recently, I’ve been working closely with the Trump administration from day one to right the wrongs of previous administrations. Within days of his nomination, I indicated to Secretary Ryan Zinke that undoing the harm caused by the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase monument designations was among my top priorities. In a private meeting in my office, I even told Secretary Zinke that my support for his nomination would depend largely on his commitment to this cause. After gaining assurances from Secretary Zinke that he would work with us in this effort, I was eager to support his confirmation.

Just two weeks later, I found myself in the Oval Office, where I engaged President Trump for over an hour in a wide-ranging discussion that focused specifically on the public lands issue. I have to say, I was amazed at the President’s willingness to help. He listened intently as I relayed the fears and frustrations of thousands in our state who have been personally hurt by the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase monument designations.  I explained the urgency of addressing these devastating measures, and I asked for his help in doing so.

I was encouraged that—unlike his predecessor—President Trump actually took the time to listen and understand the heavy toll of such overreaching actions. Our President even assured me that he stands ready to work with us to fix this disaster. More than any of his predecessors, President Trump understands what’s at stake here. Indeed, in all my years of public service, I have never seen a President so committed to reining in the federal government and so eager to fix the damage done by these overbearing monument designations. We are fortunate now to have the White House on our side in the fight for local control.

Mr. President, there many areas in this country that merit protection, and I welcome the opportunity to work with my colleagues to further that cause. But the process to determine how best to protect these areas is equally important. That’s why, for decades now, I have vehemently opposed unilateral actions to restrict the use of entire landscapes without even the charade of a public process.

In using the Antiquities Act to protect our public lands, we must set a new precedent of collaboration and trust between the states and the federal government. I look forward to working with President Trump to establish this new precedent.