Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bishop seeks grand bargain on public lands

Tired of the gridlock over how to manage federal lands, Rep. Rob Bishop is attempting to bring together all sides of the issue to find common ground to either preserve or drill. The Utah Republican is one of Congress’ top cheerleaders for oil and gas development and a dogged critic of environmentalists — but he says it’s time to tone down the rhetoric and seize on a change at the Interior Department to get beyond the bitter feud in the public-lands debate. Bishop has invited energy companies, green groups, local officials and other interested parties to submit their plans for what they want to get done and hopes to craft legislation to bring up later this year. "There is some land that needs to be preserved and there’s nothing wrong with that," Bishop said in an interview recently. "There’s also land that needs to be developed, and there’s no reason why the two can’t coexist." Bishop’s office has held more than 100 individual meetings with environmentalists, oil and gas officials, county leaders and other interested parties to gauge input on a grand bargain of sorts aimed at ending the back-and-forth sparring about what to do with millions of acres awaiting a designation. "I think we know that we’re not going to agree on everything. In fact, we may not agree on many things," says Paul Spitler, director of wilderness campaigns with The Wilderness Society, who has met with Bishop about the proposed collaboration. "But there are some areas we will agree." The timing is right, the congressman adds, since new Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has taken office and signaled an interest in working with local officials to tackle land concerns. "If we can do it now, while we have a new Interior secretary coming in, [and] before everyone gets too locked down in their habits or biases, I think this is an opportunity to finally get something done," Bishop says. "There’s a window of opportunity now, which if we were to wait too much longer would probably get closed." Jewell, the former head of Recreational Equipment Inc., whose first full day in office was Monday, said during her Senate confirmation hearing that she is committed to public input and working with communities on issues "so that it’s not a surprise" when an action is taken. "I think people in our states [who] are on the ground by these spectacular places or important places know that better than anybody else around the country," she said...more

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