New Trump executive orders will take aim at protected public lands, offshore drilling bans

President Trump signs an executive order
(Image credit: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

President Trump's White House is a flurry of activity as it pushes to chalk up tangible achievements before Trump hits 100 days in office on Saturday, and on Wednesday, Trump will sign executive orders on education and public lands. One of the orders will instigate an Interior Department review of all national monuments designated by his predecessors since 1996, with a perceived goal of opening more protected public lands to drilling, logging, and mining; the other will order Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to study how the federal government "has unlawfully overstepped state and local control," a White House official tells The Washington Post.

On Friday, Trump will sign yet another executive order, this one seeking to lift bans on offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans put in place by former President Barack Obama, The New York Times reports. It will order Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to study an Obama mandate to block offshore drilling in those waters through 2022, and call for a repeal of a permanent ban on drilling in Arctic and Atlantic areas Obama enacted in December 2016, using a provision of the 1953 Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. It isn't clear how much any of Trump's orders will accomplish.

DeVos already has the necessary authority to reverse Obama-era guidance to public schools and universities on a range of issues, as she has already done by pulling back protections for transgender students. Likewise, Trump is able to cancel Obama's temporary ban on drilling in the Arctic and southern Atlantic Coast, pending litigation. But since Teddy Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, no president has reversed the designation of a national monument. "The Antiquities Act language does not include any authority for presidents to rescind or modify a national monument created by predecessors," Mark Squillace, an expert on natural resources law at the University of Colorado Law School, tells The New York Times. "That authority is limited to Congress." And Trump faces similarly uncharted waters with Obama's permanent ban on drilling.

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The eventual outcomes may not be the most important thing to Trump this week, The Washington Post suggests. "In many ways, Trump, more than any modern president before him, runs his White House like a television drama, believing that sometimes projecting an image of energy and progress is as important, if not more so, than the reality," and this week, "doing something, anything, is better than the perception of stagnation."

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.