WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will sign executive orders this week aimed at expanding offshore oil drilling and reviewing national monument designations made by his predecessors, continuing the Republican’s assault on Democratic President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy.
The orders could expand oil drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans and upend public lands protections put in place in Utah, Maine and other states. The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the president to declare federal lands of historic or scientific value to be “national monuments” and restrict how the lands can be used.
Administration officials on Monday confirmed the expected moves. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the president’s upcoming actions.
Obama used his power under the act to permanently preserve more land and water using national monument designations than any other president. The land is generally off limits to timber harvesting, mining and pipelines, and commercial development.
Utah Republicans were infuriated when Obama created the Bears Ears National Monument in December on more than 1 million acres of land that’s sacred to Native Americans and home to tens of thousands of archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.
Republicans also objected when Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine last summer on 87,500 acres of donated forestland. The expanse includes part of the Penobscot River and stunning views of Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain.
Republicans have asked Trump to reverse the two designations, saying they add an unnecessary layer of federal control and could stymie commercial development.
Trump’s staff has been reviewing the decisions to determine economic impacts, whether the law was followed and whether there was appropriate consultation with local officials.
Before leaving office in January, Obama designated the bulk of U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing.
The move was seen as an effort to put some finishing touches on Obama’s environmental legacy while also testing Trump’s promise to unleash the nation’s untapped energy reserves.
Obama cited an arcane provision in a 1953 law to ban offshore leases in the waters permanently. The statute says that “the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”
White House officials said when Obama imposed the order they were confident it would withstand legal challenge, adding that the language of the statute provides no authority for subsequent presidents to undo permanent withdrawals. Environmental groups say a similar logic applies to national monuments and note that no president has acted to undo a monument designation made by a predecessor.
The Atlantic waters placed off-limits to new oil and gas leasing are 31 canyons stretching off the coast of New England south to Virginia. Existing leases aren’t affected.