Utah Legislature Aims to Protect Land Use Rights

Published May 1, 2008

Both houses of the Utah state legislature have registered their opposition to proposals by environmental activist groups to have the federal government lock away more than 9 million acres of public lands in Utah.

Instead, the legislature is calling for continued development of the state’s abundant oil, gas, coal, oil shale, and other natural resources.

Protecting Public Access

In an overwhelming 22-3 vote, the Utah Senate on February 28 approved legislation that “urges Congress not to enact federal legislation designating additional ‘wilderness’ on public lands within Utah without the unanimous support of Utah’s congressional delegation.”

The Utah House had approved a similar statement two weeks earlier.

The resolution also “urges the United States Bureau of Land Management not to restrict access to existing public lands in Utah under its jurisdiction through so-called ‘wilderness characteristics’ options in resource management plans.”

Preserving Local Economy

“Easterners think these lands are their playground, but we are the ones who take care of these lands,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich (D-Price), the primary sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said in a February press statement.

“Oil and gas and mining resources are the roots of our economy in Utah,” Dmitrich continued. “We cannot afford to let environmental elitists and New York politicians lock away these public lands from the Utah public.”

“What we’re seeing is a rapidly growing prairie fire of opposition to the anti-energy agenda of the environmental elites,” said Greg Schnacke, president and CEO of Americans for American Energy.

“Democrats and Republicans are linking arms to push back against those extremists who want to shut down American energy production and force us into an even greater addiction to foreign energy,” Schnacke said.

Confirming that point, the resolution states, “locking away much of Utah’s valuable mineral resources from environmentally sound development not only hurts Utah economically, but also weakens America by hamstringing the production of more energy in Utah,” noting, “less American energy means more imported energy from hostile nations, some with ties to terrorist organizations that despise the United States.”

Utahns ‘Mad as Hell’

At a joint press conference February 14 with 32 Utah legislators from both parties, lawmakers spoke out strongly against the Congressional legislation and efforts by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) to stop American energy development in the state.

“Liberal New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey and political activist groups like the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance think they know better than Utahns how best to use Utah’s public lands,” said Rep. Aaron Tilton (R-Springville), chief sponsor of the House joint resolution.

“This resolution sends a clear signal to Washington that public lands in Utah should remain open to agriculture, outdoor recreation, and environmentally sound energy development,” Tilton continued.

“People are mad as hell about the federal government making wilderness designations that take away their livelihood, their economy, their family recreation, and their access to local public lands,” Tilton added in an interview for this story. “This is a broad-based, grassroots opposition that unifies all sectors of Utah society.

“There have always been multiple uses of public lands, including recreation, energy development, ranching, agriculture, and tourism,” Tilton said. “Utahns are in strong agreement that these traditional multiple uses should not be squeezed out by a single, exclusive use as wilderness that forces out all other interests.

“All of these local, diverse interests are speaking with a single voice that the historic multiple use policy should be respected,” Tilton said.

Darrell Proctor ([email protected]) is media relations specialist for Americans for American Energy.