In December of last year, President Trump, at the recommendation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, decided to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah. And as of yesterday, the two million acres of land that were cut are open to mining for uranium, gold, and other minerals.

What the process would look like:

A prospector for uranium, gold or other minerals would merely have to hammer poles in the ground or build rock piles demarcating the area they would like to claim, an archaic-seeming approach derived from an 1872 law. For oil and gas it is a lengthier process that, in theory, could see land auctioned off on EnergyNet, a website dubbed “the eBay for public lands”, later this year. Some of the excluded land is still protected under other regulations.

Public land belongs to the American people, but private interests can obtain rights to graze, mine or drill on them. According to an estimate by the Center for Biological Diversity, about 800,000 acres of public land – a total larger than the state of Rhode Island – were leased for oil and gas drilling last year.

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