Utah Legislature Rejects National Monument Designations

Published March 19, 2010

The Utah House and Senate have passed resolutions opposing the federal government designating any new national monuments in the state without the state’s consent.

The resolutions, passed by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate, came after Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) released a Department of the Interior memo identifying two sites in Utah among 14 potential new national monuments.

Responding to this plan, the Utah House voted 63-11 to oppose any unilateral federal designation of national monuments in the state. In the Senate the resolution passed in a near-unanimous vote, with only State Senator, Brent Goodfellow (D-West Valley City), voting no.

Utah Burned Before
Bishop is concerned the memo could signal Obama administration plans to repeat the stealth takeover of state lands conducted under the Clinton administration.

“If Western members seem worried, it is because we have been burned by Presidential designations in the past. The designation process should be submitted to an open and transparent process,” said Bishop in a February 18 press release.

In 1996, then-president Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, with virtually no warning to local officials. The designated lands contain one of the largest coal deposits in the country and would have tremendously benefited Utah’s economy.

According to the Interior Department memo released by Bishop, the department is now considering Cedar Mesa in San Juan County and San Rafael Swell in Emery County for national monument designation within Utah.

Back-Door Attack on Energy
Bishop and other Westerners are concerned the desire to shut down energy production motivates national monument designation. Cedar Mesa and San Rafael Swell both contain significant natural resources that could benefit Utah’s economy.

“That would be one of my primary concerns, that this is a move to lock up our domestic resources,” said Melissa Subbotin, press secretary for the Congressional Western Caucus.

“There will be significant job losses if these monument designations move forward without any sort of public input,” Subbotin added.

“If such designations were to be implemented, ranching, energy production, recreation, and future tax revenue for local communities could be significantly harmed,” Bishop explained in a February 18 press release. “In light of such significant implications, stakeholders, local officials, and community residents deserve the opportunity to provide input and voice their opinions.  Anything short of that would be completely irresponsible.”

Skepticism Remains
Subbotin agrees.

“Our concerns are along the lines of [the Interior Department] discussing, even planning, or moving forward with such an effort without consulting the states listed in the document,” she said. “Until we see anything official or anything in writing, we’re not going to just take their word at face value, and we’re going to move forward with putting the necessary protections in place for each state.”

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.