Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Complaints heat up over possible new monuments

On the same day a Utah legislative committee unanimously approved a resolution voicing opposition to the creation of any more national monuments, members of the U.S. Senate Western Caucus also took their fight to the mat.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and other members of the Senate Western Caucus sent a letter Tuesday to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, expressing concern about the possible designation of national monuments in Utah and other states absent public input or consent.

In the letter, Hatch and six other caucus members, including Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, voiced opposition to the possible designation of 14 sites in nine Western states as national monuments through the "misuse" of the Antiquities Act. Two of the sites — the San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa — are in Utah.

"Americans enjoy a variety of benefits from our public lands, but many westerners rely on public lands for their very livelihoods. For that reason, Congress has ensured that public land management decisions are made in a process that is both public and transparent. … Americans should never live in fear that the stroke of a pen in Washington could forever change their lives," the senators wrote.

The vitriolic opposition is an echo of the reaction across the state when President Bill Clinton designated 1.7 million acres in southern Utah as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. Clinton used the Antiquities Act to make the surprise designation.

"The way the monument was designated violated the spirit and letter of the Antiquities Act, which expressly forbids large land grabs," Hatch said. "Citizens should oppose any abuse of power by the government, and using the Antiquities Act to circumvent public input and congressional oversight is a clear abuse."

The letter stresses the need for building local consensus and "stakeholder involvement," when it comes to land management and also points to overburdened federal agencies it asserts are ill-equipped to deal with the responsibilities that come with new monument designations.

"The Bureau of Land Management faces budget shortfalls annually, and the National Park Service faces a maintenance backlog on its existing facilities of over $9 billion," the letter reads. "Policymakers must focus on making responsible investments on behalf of the American taxpayer."

In addition to Hatch and Bennett, the letter was signed by Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Michael Enzi, R-Wyo.; Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.; Mike Johanns, R- Neb.; and John Ensign, R-Nev.

HCR 17, a resolution on the issue being run by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, unanimously passed a legislative committee Tuesday afternoon that featured an appearance by former Congressman James Hansen.

The long-time Republican lawmaker, active for years in wilderness and lands-related legislation, told members of the House Natural Resources committee that while resolutions are skeptically referred to as "mere" message bills, federal lawmakers do take notice.

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, who also served as the head of the Utah Rivers Council, said he supports the resolution despite being a self-professed environmentalist.

"(But) I also know the tremendous setback with the Grand Staircase. It angered county commissioners all over this state, it angered a lot of Democrats," he said.

Wilson, the newly tapped head of Gov. Gary Herbert's Balanced Resource Council, said any presidential designation of new national monuments in Utah would be a significant setback undermining resources plans being crafted.


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