Thursday, December 08, 2016

Public lands issues face uncertain future as presidential transition nears

As President Barack Obama prepares to leave office and President-elect Donald Trump puts together his own administration, the future of public lands issues remains unclear to elected officials, environmentalists and industry supporters alike. The outgoing 114th Congress is running out of time to act on a sweeping eastern Utah public lands bill from the state's congressional delegation. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is keeping mum on the possibility of whether or not it will declare a 1.9-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument on public lands in San Juan County. Both issues are connected to each other: Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced their Public Lands Initiative (PLI) partly because they hope to avert the designation of another national monument in Utah. After more than three years of work on the initiative, the House Natural Resources Committee chair finally unveiled the bill last summer, just as U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell toured sites that an inter-tribal coalition wants to include in a Bears Ears monument. But the PLI hasn't gained much traction in the current Congress, and critics like Moab resident and Sierra Club representative Wayne Hoskisson have questioned whether Bishop is committed to passing the bill. Groene said he views the PLI as a “total failure,” and he believes the bill's lame-duck status in the 114th congressional session gives Obama an open invitation to declare a Bears Ears National Monument. “So we can thank Congressman Bishop for what is likely a monument designation,” Groene said. At this point, Bishop Communications Director Lee Lonsberry said he can't say whether Jewell has come up with a recommendation for or against the Bears Ears proposal. “I can't speak to any of that,” Lonsberry said. “I don't know, essentially.” With no clear indication of where the current administration is going, Utah's delegation is moving forward with the PLI, based on the assumption that the U.S. House and Senate can still approve the bill during the waning days of this congressional session. “Right now, we're just operating as though we can get it through this Congress,” Lonsberry said. Lonsberry said that Bishop met with members of the president-elect's transition team to discuss some of those priorities, such as potential land-use policies that the next administration might pursue. Bishop called the talks “positive and encouraging,” and he raised the possibility that he will work with Trump's administration to undo past national monument designations, such as former President Bill Clinton's creation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. Republican and Democratic presidents alike since Teddy Roosevelt have used their powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act to set aside monuments that later became national parks, including four of Utah's “Mighty Five.” Bishop signaled that he may try to reverse those decisions in cases where the monuments are, by his standards, “excessive” in size, and don't necessarily protect landmarks or historic sites from imminent danger. “Any monument designation that lacks local support, is excessive, or violates the terms of the Antiquities Act will be scrutinized and is easier to abolish,” he said in a statement. While such a move is unprecedented, Lonsberry said that nothing in the 1906 law would prevent a future president from reversing a predecessor's proclamations. “It has not been done in the past, but it's not prohibited,” Lonsberry said...more

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