Jason Chaffetz uses meeting with Trump to promote disposal of public lands

Trump made it clear there would be “no oversight talk.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), met with President Donald Trump for the first time Tuesday and instead of asking the president to release his tax returns or address his glaring conflicts of interest, Chaffetz asked that the White House defy existing law to undo protections for a national monument in Utah.

After the meeting, Chaffetz told reporters that Trump made it clear there would be “no oversight talk” during their conversation. Although Democrats on the committee have called for an investigation into Trump’s business dealings, Chaffetz instead took the opportunity to bring up his opposition to the Bears Ears national monument in Utah “as subject number one.”

The 1.35 million-acre national monument was designated by President Barack Obama in December after a Native American inter-tribal coalition expressed support for its creation. The area is one of the most historically and culturally rich sites in the country, with more than 100,000 cultural and archaeological sites throughout. It has also been one of the most vulnerable places for grave robbing and looting.

As an alternative to the monument, Chaffetz, along with fellow Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, had introduced the “Public Lands Initiative,” a bill which would have protected a much smaller portion of the vulnerable landscape. Tribes called the bill “shameful” and an “affront to tribal sovereignty.”

Chaffetz also seems to have quickly forgotten the intense public backlash to his recent efforts to privatize or dispose of public lands. Last Thursday, in response to massive protests in Montana and New Mexico, Chaffetz was forced to pull a bill he had introduced that would have sold off 3.3 million acres of public lands.

“Just last week Representative Chaffetz withdrew a piece of anti-public lands legislation after a strong backlash, saying ‘I hear you,’” Jesse Prentice-Dunn, advocacy director at the Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement. “In asking President Trump to abolish the Bears Ears National Monument, it’s clear he didn’t get the message.”

Organizers of the lucrative Outdoor Retailer show announced Tuesday that they will accept competing bids to host their biannual show outside of Salt Lake City for the first time, largely in response to anti-public lands policies coming from Utah politicians. Show organizers cited increasing complaints from industry leaders who don’t want to support a state working in opposition to the industry’s culture and values.

The industry outcry culminated with outdoor retailer giant Patagonia vowing to boycott the show if it continues to take place in Utah.

“Because of the hostile environment they have created and their blatant disregard for Bears Ears National Monument and other public lands, the backbone of our business, Patagonia will no longer attend the Outdoor Retailer show in Utah,” Patagonia president and CEO, Rose Marcario, said in a statement. “We are confident other outdoor manufacturers and retailers will join us in moving our investment to a state that values our industry and promotes public lands conservation.”

Trump’s nominee for Interior Secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), promised in is confirmation hearing that, once confirmed, his first trip would be to Utah to address the “pending problem” of Bears Ears and make a recommendation to the president. Rep. Bishop has already met with Trump’s staff on overturning the Bears Ears Monument, though legal experts say the president does not have that authority.

Jenny Rowland is the research and advocacy manager for the public lands team at the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed in the Center for American Progress Action Fund.