April 26, 2017 — President Trump on Wednesday will issue a sweeping executive order to review as many as 40 national monument designations made by his three predecessors, an unprecedented move that could curtail or rescind their protected status.
It was unclear which areas would come under review, but the list could include monuments designated last year by President Barack Obama, including thousands of acres of pristine woods in northern Maine and sensitive marine habitats in the submerged canyons and mountains off Cape Cod.
Environmental groups immediately questioned the president’s legal authority to reverse a previous president’s designation, but the Trump administration has suggested that some of the restrictions on mining, logging, and other commercial and recreational activities have gone too far.
“The review is long overdue,” US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said at a White House news conference.
“No one can say definitely one way or another whether a president can undo an earlier president’s designation, because the issue has never been litigated,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, who has opposed Obama’s closing of 5,000 square miles of seabed to fishing by designating the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, about 130 miles off Cape Cod.
Mitchell said there is precedent for presidents to change the boundaries and activities within a national monument. President Woodrow Wilson reduced by half the size of the Mount Olympus National Monument in Washington, created by President Theodore Roosevelt.
“Intuitively, one would assume that if the president can establish a monument, the president can undo an earlier establishment,” he said.
Andrew Minkiewicz, an attorney at the Fisheries Survival Fund in Washington, D.C., said the president wouldn’t have to rescind Obama’s designation to address the concerns of the fishing industry.
“With the stroke of a pen, he could just say there’s no longer a ban on commercial fishing,” he said.