The Wilderness Society et al. v. Trump et al. (Grand Staircase-Escalante)
In a move that stripped legal protections from nearly two million acres of federal public lands, President Trump signed presidential proclamations on December 4, 2017, dismantling two national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, both in southern Utah.
Featuring spectacular multihued cliffs and canyon systems that showcase millennia of sedimentary rock formations, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is home to fossils that offer an unparalleled window into the Late Cretaceous period. Scientists come from all over the world to study Grand Staircase-Escalante’s paleontological sites, which have yielded more than 20 previously undiscovered dinosaur species. President Trump’s proclamation slashed the monument by roughly half, replacing it with three much smaller "units" and leaving the rest of the area open to harmful developments such as mineral exploration, coal mining, new road construction, the use of mechanized vehicles, and oil and gas drilling. Trump’s action threatens to ruin vital parts of the paleontological record, the land's wild natural character, and other resources the monument was created to protect.
Within hours of the president's proclamation, NRDC and a coalition of other environmental groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. (Relatedly, we also filed a separate lawsuit over Bears Ears later that week.) Our lawsuit challenges Trump’s action as unlawful because the president has neither constitutional nor statutory authority to dismantle national monuments created under the Antiquities Act of 1906. A coalition of paleontologists and other monument supporters filed a similar lawsuit, and in January 2018, the district court consolidated the two cases. In September 2018, the court denied the federal defendants’ request to transfer the cases to the federal court in Utah.
The federal defendants moved to dismiss the cases in October 2018, supported by the State of Utah and several other intervenors. We and our fellow plaintiffs filed briefs opposing dismissal, arguing that Trump’s proclamation overstepped presidential authority. Seven groups of amici curiae—law professors, members of Congress, state attorneys general, and others—filed amicus briefs supporting us and our fellow plaintiffs. The court has not yet set a hearing date or ruled on the motion.
While the cases are pending, there is a real risk of harm to the lands excised from Grand Staircase-Escalante. The court has therefore ordered the federal government to provide plaintiffs with timely notice before beginning a range of potentially harmful developments within these now-vulnerable lands. In July 2019 we learned, after the fact, that the federal government had authorized third-party contractors to drive motorized vehicles on closed routes throughout the monument, potentially damaging sensitive areas. And on August 23, 2019—before the court has even ruled on the legality of President Trump’s proclamation dismantling the monument—the U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued management plans for the illegally diminished monument and the excluded lands. The court has scheduled a status conference to discuss these developments on October 7, 2019.