I would like to thank Sen. Mike Lee for recently introducing the Protecting Utah’s Rural Economy (PURE) Act. This bill, if passed, would give Utah the same protections against Antiquities Act abuse that Wyoming and Alaska enjoy. The PURE Act would require presidents to get the approval of Congress and the Utah Legislature before designating national monuments.
Last December I had the great privilege of traveling to the Utah Capitol to attend President Trump’s announcement that he would be shrinking the Bears Ears and Grand Escalante Staircase National Monuments.
As a rural county commissioner from San Juan County I had become used to being ignored by Washington, D.C. The president’s announcement to shrink the monuments came as a welcome — if not miraculous — surprise, and I know many of my friends and neighbors felt that for the first time someone had actually listened to us. Our hope was that the announcement to shrink the monuments would be the first step in reversing more than 40 years of federal overreach.
We know that there are no permanent victories in politics; and we weren’t surprised to see the elitist environmentalists and their allies dig in. Doing what they do best, they filed another federal lawsuit. We were encouraged to hear that our congressional delegation was working on legislation that would make the boundaries announced by Trump permanent, that would provide tribal co-management authority for the Shash-Jaa National Monument and that would protect Utahns from future presidential abuses of the Antiquities Act.
The bill that Rep. John Curtis introduced was a disaster. It forfeited all mineral rights in the old boundaries of the Obama-designated monument while doing nothing to prevent future presidents from expanding monuments to their previous boundaries or from designating new monuments. Both sides were not happy with the proposed legislation, and it was abandoned.
Rep. Chris Stewart also introduced a bill that created a new national park during a time when we can’t even maintain our existing parks. His bill also did nothing to prevent future abuses of the Antiquities Act.
I personally attended Lee’s speech a few weeks ago where he articulated a new vision for public lands in Utah. I agree with Lee that a new vision is needed. As the Republican candidate to represent District 73 in the Utah Legislature I plan, if elected, to play a decisive role in helping shape and bring to pass this new vision for the public lands in our state.
This new vision for our public lands must put an end to the status quo where presidents can lock up millions of acres in our state to please wealthy campaign donors and movie stars, while ignoring elected representatives – especially local elected officials.
It’s time to give Utahns a seat at the table in determining our own future. Rural Utah is sick of being treated like a political football to be kicked back and forth with each change in administration. Lee’s bill will be a good first-step in restoring local self-determination and dignity to Utah’s rural communities.
I hope Sen. Orrin Hatch will co-sponsor this bill, and he should fight with everything he’s got to get it passed. We have a very short window of opportunity to exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act. This opportunity may not come again for generations. We have the right president. We have the right congressional delegation. And, now, we have the right bill.
This Op-ed was originally published in the Salt Lake Tribune