The Trump Public Lands Revolution: Redefining 'The Public' in Public Land Law

Contributor Roles

Olivier Jamin, L.L.M. candidate, J.D. 2017, Lewis & Clark Law School

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Environmental Law

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Env't L.


The Trump administration’s efforts to comprehensively dismantle Obama-era policies had special force in federal public land management. The disassembling included a substantial reduction in the size of national monuments, a jettisoning of protections for sage-grouse habitat, and a widespread fostering of fossil-fuel friendly policies, such as ending leasing moratoria, attempting to revoke methane emission controls, and a scuttling hydraulic fracturing regulation. Congress was a willing partner in this deregulatory campaign, eliminating revised land-planning regulations, authorizing oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and threatening to codify in statutes the administration’s regulatory rollbacks in order to make them more permanent.. Collectively, these initiatives amounted to clearly the most substantial rollback in public lands protections in American history. This article surveys these events in the early days of the Trump administration. The effect was to attempt to revolutionize public land law in arguably undemocratic terms, as there was little evidence of widespread public support for the rollbacks of land protections or the championing of fossil-fuel developments. The agenda also included persistent calls in both the administration and in Congress for more state local control over federal public land management. We think that the Trump revolution reflected an attempt to fundamentally redefine the public in public land law and policy, narrowing the focus of governmental concern largely to those producing commodity production, especially fossil fuels. The long-term consequences are disturbing in terms of their potential costs and who will be saddled with them.

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Co-author Olivier Jamin is a Lewis & Clark Law School student.