Feds ask for Bears Ears lawsuits to be consolidated

The three plaintiffs suing the president are not opposed, according to the motion.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. President Donald Trump is surrounded by Utah representatives at the Utah Capitol on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, as he signs the presidential proclamation to shrink Bears Ears national monument.

The federal government filed a motion Friday, requesting that the three lawsuits challenging President Donald Trump’s downsizing of Bears Ears National Monument be partially consolidated for efficiency.

The plaintiffs — the Hopi Tribe, Utah Dine Bikeyah and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) — do not oppose consolidation, according to the motion. However, they do want to have individual case numbers, be able to file individual motions and reserve individual appeal rights.

The Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian tribes are co-plaintiffs in the Hopi Tribe’s lawsuit.

The motion has been submitted to Judge Tanya Chutkan, who sits on the federal District Court for Washington, D.C. As of Friday night, the motion had not been granted.

If the consolidation were approved, it would allow collaborative scheduling for hearings and motions, possibly avoiding redundancies in the cases.

Kate Desormeau, attorney for the NRDC, confirmed that her client does not oppose the motion. She said consolidation is common in this type of case.

“Administrative consolidation would be for efficiency and ease of the court, but really these are still separate cases,” she said.

Romney Philpott, lead attorney on the case for the Justice Department, did not answer a call seeking comment Friday evening.

Bears Ears was created by then-President Barack Obama on Dec. 28, 2016, by way of the Antiquities Act. Trump used the same act Dec. 4 to split the monument into Indian Creek National Monument and Shash Jaa National Monument — two designations that equal about 85 percent of Bears Ears’ 1.35 million acres in San Juan County. The new monuments are to comprise about 202,000 acres when Trump’s change goes into effect in February.

The plaintiffs say the Antiquities Act does not give presidents the authority to modify a monument, only to designate one. The courts have not weighed in on the issue.

Trump is also being sued by environmental groups Grand Staircase Escalante Partners and the Wilderness Society for cutting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly 900,000 acres.