Judge sets hearing in Bears Ears monument case as tribes, environmentalists demand notification of potential mining

FILE - In this May 8, 2017, file photo, Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is viewed. The U.S. government is issuing draft proposals for how it would like to manage two national monuments in Utah that were significantly downsized by President Donald Trump in 2017 in a move that angered conservation and tribal groups and triggered lawsuits. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File)

Washington • A federal judge has scheduled a hearing Thursday to discuss arguments by tribes and environmentalists suing over the shrinking of the Bears Ears National Monument that the government should have to notify them of any planned oil, gas or mineral extraction within the boundaries of the redrawn monument.

The groups say that they’ve “learned of some mining activity” within the original boundaries that would have been prohibited without President Donald Trump’s December 2017 order to remove 1.1 million acres from the monument in southeastern Utah. The plaintiffs, who believe Trump lacked authority to change the monument’s boundaries, say there is a proposal for “ground-disturbing activities” on a former uranium mine that could begin this month.

Those suing over the monument changes are the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni tribes, as well as environmental and conservation interests. They had requested in January that the federal government notify them of any proposed mining requests within 48 hours, but Judge Tanya S. Chutkan responded, “At this time, I’m not going to require the government to provide notice,” according to a motion filed in the case.

Given the new information, the plaintiffs say that the judge should revisit her decision and require the Interior Department to notify them of all “developments related to extractive and/or land-disturbing activity” on lands that were part of the original Bears Ears monument.

“Without this notice, plaintiffs are unable to preserve the status quo or know when their interests have been affected,” lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote in their motion.

Attorneys for Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and other parties named in the suit did not oppose the status hearing but argue in their own motion that the plaintiffs have access to publicly available information on mining claims and that there has been no movement for extraction beyond sampling, which is allowed under the law.

There are only three new claims – one of which has been set aside because it was incomplete – and “Interior has received no notices for exploration activities or applications for mining plans of development on either of the other two claims. “

“In short, plaintiffs have access to the same information that all members of the public have, and there is no reason under the circumstances that they should be treated differently,” the government attorneys say. “At the same time, plaintiffs’ request would place an unnecessary burden on the agencies.”

Chutkan has yet to rule on a motion by the government to move the case from Washington, D.C., to Salt Lake City.