Bear Ears National Monument: A Values Analysis

Just prior to leaving office on December 28th, 2016, President Barack Obama established Bears Ears National Monument by citing the Antiquities Act. Many natives of the area, including the Navajo Nation, viewed this as a victory after years of cultural and environmental activism. However, one year later on December 4th, 2017, President Trump controversially reduced the size of the monument by 85% following a large push from industry and big business. In response, James Adakai, a local whose Navajo ancestors inhabited the monument’s land stated, “We fought. We won the century-year-old fight: the monument. And now we’re up for another fight.” (Turkewitz 2017). Meanwhile, businesses, especially the mining industry, saw Trump’s scaling back as a triumph over a designation that never should have happened in the first place (Tabuchi 2018). Both supporters and opponents of Bears Ears Monument held steady in their positions throughout the history of the debate. That said, this conflict underscores the shift in abstract concepts driving values of a stakeholder that often occurs over an extended political debate, even when the end goal of each stakeholder remains unchanged.  In this case, both stakeholders shifted from more extreme environmental value frameworks such as a Promethean outlook originally supported by industry and a Green Romanticism lens adopted by the Navajo, to less polarizing values including Democratic Pragmatism and Sustainable Development in an effort to increase support for their views.

Two important stakeholders in the dispute include the uranium mining industry, namely Uranium Producers of America, Energy Fuels, and the National Mining Association, and native residents including members of the Navajo Nation and the Grand Canyon Watershed (Tabuchi 2018). Both groups have strong values driving their actions around the disagreement. A values analysis, however, highlights how these values have shifted over time to continue to support each stakeholder’s agenda.

The land surrounding Bear Ears National Monument houses hundreds of uranium mines and deposits. However, domestic uranium production has declined by 90% in past years. According to the mining industry, opening Bears Ears back to industrial use “will make the United States a larger player in the global uranium market” (Tabuchi 2018). As a result, the end goal of this stakeholder has remained the same through time as the industry has lobbied extensively for a reduction of the Bears Ears boundaries in order to continue or even expand current mining operations.

However, a values analysis reveals that the abstract concepts and guiding principles have subtly evolved through the course of the debate. Initially, the industry came across as strictly Promethean, interested solely in economic advancement no matter the cost to the environment and the people who live there by lobbying and campaigning with minimal public involvement (Smith 2009). Their guiding principles were all based on economic interest. Upon closer analysis, it is apparent that the mining industry has started to incorporate a more Democratic Pragmatist framework within its abstract ideals (Smith 2009). The companies have become more transparent as they have turned to the public for support by pushing a clean energy narrative. For example, John Indall, a lawyer for Uranium Producers of America, released the statement, “If we consider nuclear a clean energy, if people are serious about that, domestic uranium has to be in the equation” (Tabuchi 2018). Their guiding principles have also shifted from uniquely economic expansion toward overcoming federal overreach and increasing domestic development through public involvement (Friedman 2017).

On the other side of the controversy stands the Navajo Nation who petitioned to uphold the original boundaries of the monument. Again, their end goal in a values analysis remains the same. The Navajo people want the boundaries of the monument upheld. However, the abstract concepts and guiding principles behind this overarching end-goal have also changed as the issue continued. Originally, the Navajo could be seen through a Green Romanticism lens (Smith 2009). They were guided by the connectedness of nature and their culture and took a holistic view of the Bears Ears Monument. However, the narrative coming from this stakeholder quickly shifted toward a Sustainable Development and an Administrative Rationalism framework (Smith 2009). To qualify Sustainable Development, they stressed the need to maintain the land for future generations and highlighted current inequities caused by the mining industry’s pollution of the Grand Canyon watershed on human health (Tabuchi 2018). Under Administrative Rationalism, they were guided by science as recent reports suggested that Bears Ears is one of the most biodiverse national landholdings in the country and deserves robust conservation (Rowl 2017).

Thus, it is clear that the stakeholder values most emphasized within both of the primary groups of interest concerning the reduction of the Bears Ears National Monument have transformed as each group’s approach to the conflict has evolved overtime. Understanding the driving values behind both sides of the argument will remain crucial for the administration as the decision about regulation surrounding Bears Ears National Monument approaches a resolution.

 

Bibliography

Friedman, Lisa. 2017. “Trump Plans to Shrink Two National Monuments in Utah.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/climate/bears-ears-utah.html (February 2, 2018).

Rowl, Jenny. 2017. “American Treasure at Risk: How Bears Ears National Monument Stacks up to U.S. National Parks.” Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2017/04/05/429667/american-treasure-risk-bears-ears-national-monument-stacks-u-s-national-parks/ (February 1, 2018).

Smith, Zachary A. 2009. “Public Opinion and the Environment.” The Environmental Policy Paradox. New Jersey. Pearson (26-31).

Tabuchi, Hiroko. 2018. “Uranium Miners Pushed Hard for a Comeback. They Got Their Wish.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/13/climate/trump-uranium-bears-ears.html (February 2, 2018).

Turkewitz, Julie. 2017. “Battle Over Bears Ears Heats Up as Trump Rethinks Its Monument Status.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/14/us/bears-ears-ryan-zinke.html (February 2, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

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