Former President Bill Clinton says shrinking Utah national monuments is ‘wrong economic decision’ and ‘wrong environmental decision’

FILE - In this Sept. 18, 1996, file photo, Vice President Al Gore applauds after President Bill Clinton signs a bill designating about 1.7 million acres of land in southern Utah's red-rock cliff as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, at the Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona. As Utah waits to see if President Barack Obama will designate a new national monument in the state, the 20th anniversary of the Grand Staircase Escalante-National Monument rekindled memories of an event that ignited simmering western frustrations about federal ownership of public land. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

Former President Bill Clinton denounced President Donald Trump’s decision to shrink Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments, saying it was a bad move in multiple ways.

Clinton prefaced his remarks by recalling his contentious choice to protect Grand Staircase-Escalante during his presidency — and the positive feedback he got for it five years after — and said he was “mystified and heartbroken” about the recent cuts.

“I think this is the wrong economic decision. I know it’s the wrong environmental decision. I think it’s the wrong cultural decision,” he said. “I mean, this is supposed to be a time in which he honor the native-born over immigrants. The only true native-born Americans are the tribal people who live in the area protected, who all oppose this”

During Trump’s visit to Salt Lake City on Monday, he signed two proclamations to shrink the federally protected lands by about 2 million acres and replace them with five smaller monuments.

While Utah politicians lauded Trump’s decision, environmentalists and tribal groups protested. A coalition of conservation organizations quickly countered the move with a lawsuit, arguing the Antiquities Act doesn’t allow the current president to diminish or rescind former president’s monument designations.

Clinton proclaimed Grand Staircase-Escalante as a national monument in 1996, and Barack Obama did the same for Bears Ears in 2016.

While Clinton’s decision upset local residents and Utah’s majority Republican government — ultimately losing then-Utah Congressman and Democrat Bill Orton his job — Utahns later told Clinton they were grateful because the decision brought eco-tourists and other economic opportunities to southern Utah, he said.

As Vice President Al Gore watches, President Clinton signs a bill declaring 1.7 million acres of southern Utah's red-rock cliff and canyons as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)

Clinton made the remark Tuesday at Conservation International’s 30th anniversary gala dinner in New York. A transcript of his statement was sent to the Salt Lake Tribune.