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Utah Supreme Court rules lawsuits regarding Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante can move forward

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance's suits allege county commissioners held unlawful closed-door meetings with Zinke
Trump National Monuments
Posted at 11:25 AM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-26 13:31:11-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Two Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance lawsuits regarding the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument can move forward, the Utah Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The lawsuits allege the Garfield, Kane and San Juan county commissions violated Utah’s open meetings laws when they met with then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ahead of President Trump’s decision to shrink both monuments.

“We’re grateful the Supreme Court has cleared the way for these important lawsuits to proceed,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, in a news release. “SUWA members and the broader public had every right to know what these commissioners were saying behind closed doors about the fate of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments.”

RELATED: FOX 13, other news organizations weigh in on open meetings lawsuit

Judges in lower courts declared the environmental group lacked standing to challenge the commissioners’ closure of the meeting.

"SUWA has standing. It falls within the class of people [Utah's Open and Public Meetings Act] seeks to protect," the Utah Supreme Court's rulings say. "We also reverse the district court‘s decision to dismiss SUWA‘s complaint."

SUWA's lawsuits sought a court decree that the meetings violated the Open and Public Meetings Act, an injunction compelling the defendants to comply with the Act from then on and "such other and further relief as [the 3rd District Court] deems reasonable and just."

President Biden has pledged to reverse Trump's actions regarding both monuments, SUWA's news release says.