A controversial legislative proposal released Thursday by Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) would transfer all federally-owned energy and mineral resources in southern Utah to state control, paving the way for massive new uranium, coal, and oil extraction across the area’s national forests, redrock canyons, and other public lands.
The bill, known as the Public Lands Initiative, seeks to achieve this unprecedented transfer of federal energy and minerals by simultaneously designating new wilderness areas in southern Utah, which has been a longstanding goal of conservation advocates in Utah.
Conservationists in the state, however, immediately rejected the bill as a nonstarter.
Bishop’s bill “opens protected areas to energy development and furthers the State of Utah’s efforts to seize public land.” said Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “It is a terrible, terrible bill for Utah wilderness.”
Bishop is offering the bill as an alternative to a proposal by tribal nations to protect the 1.9 million acre Bears Ears area of southern Utah as a national monument. According to a recent analysis by the Center for American Progress, the Bears Ears cultural area contains more than 100,000 unprotected archaeological sites and is the most vulnerable U.S. site for looting, vandalism, and grave robbing.
Bishop’s bill, however, faces long odds of gaining support and passing the U.S. Congress because it contains a number of highly controversial provisions and because Congress has only a few legislative days left in the calendar.
“It’s unfortunate that it has taken Congressman Bishop so long to take this process seriously. This draft bill should have been the starting point over 1000 days ago when the process began,” said Jen Rokala, Executive Director of the Center for Western Priorities in a statement. “This all raises one big question: Is Congressman Bishop serious about compromise, or running out the clock?”
In addition to granting the State of Utah unilateral control over federal energy and minerals across southern Utah, Bishop’s bill would open Recapture Canyon — an area rich in Native American sacred sites — to motorized vehicles, fulfilling an objective of anti-government activists who staged an armed takeover of the area in 2014.
The bill also continues a long track record of brushing off tribal nations in Utah. In December, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition formally ended discussions with the Utah delegation on the proposal, stating that their input had been ignored and the process unduly delayed.
“Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative excludes many important areas in the Bears Ears region. It also fails to provide local tribes with co-management authority,” said Mark Maryboy with the Utah Dine Bikeyah in an interview with ClimateProgress. “Early on in working with Bishop it was clear that he doesn’t understand, respect, or know how to work with Native Americans. Regarding the new bill, it reflects the same position of disrespect and doesn’t acknowledge Native Americans, even though they have been there for thousands of years.”
The tribes are not alone in their support for administrative action. A recent poll found that 71 percent of Utahans support the designation of Bears Ears National Monument.
Saturday’s Illegal Cliven Bundy-Endorsed ATV Rally Runs Through Sacred American Indian SitesClimate CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ED ANDRIESKI An illegal all-terrain vehicle (ATV) ride planned this weekend through Recapture…thinkprogress.orgWith a majority of his constituents and a wide range of Utah stakeholders supporting a monument designation, Rep. Bishop’s motivation to push his unpopular proposal may well be coming from outside of Utah. According to a new analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics, 93 percent of Rep. Bishop’s campaign funds came from out-of-state donors — a larger percentage than any other member in the House of Representatives, including Speaker Paul Ryan. The vast majority of these funds come from the oil and gas industry.
“If Congressman Bishop was serious about passing this bill, he wouldn’t have introduced it the week before Congress leaves for summer vacation,” Said Chris Saeger, Director of the Western Values Project. “He is playing a political game concocted in Washington DC to benefit his special interest allies, and not listening to the stakeholders who have been working on this for years.”
Bishop’s bill was released to coincide with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s tour of San Juan and Grant counties, and a three-hour public meeting on the Bears Ears cultural site on Saturday. The goal of the meeting is to hear community visions for the management of public lands in the region, with a specific focus on Rep. Bishop’s legislative proposal and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition’s monument proposal.
Congressman Bishop, who is the head of an influential anti-parks caucus in the U.S. Congress has clearly stated that he does not support a Bears Ears national monument. He is also a vocal opponent of the Antiquities Act; anyone who supports the law, he said recently, should “die.”