GOP chairmen propose sweeping federal land changes for Utah

GOP chairmen propose sweeping federal land changes for Utah
© Haiyun Jiang

Two Republican House chairman from Utah are rolling out a comprehensive plan to reform federal land ownership and management in the state.

The legislative package, dubbed the Public Lands Initiative, has been a top priority of House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopSenators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school Bureau of Land Management to move headquarters from DC to Colorado Overnight Energy: Democrats to vote on 2020 climate debate | Green groups sue to stop Keystone XL construction | States sue EPA for tougher rules on asbestos MORE (R-Utah), and comes after years of work, meetings and negotiations with disparate interests.

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Its key features include a 1.4 million-acre protected area in the Bear’s Ears region that’s considered sacred to American Indians and an expedited permitting process for oil and natural gas drilling on federal land where it is already allowed.

Bishop and House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzHouse Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke GOP senators decline to criticize Acosta after new Epstein charges MORE (R-Utah) are the leading sponsors of the proposal.

“The effort of PLI was always to solve problems that have led to acrimony, and to do so by conserving lands worthy of conservation and providing for economic and recreational opportunities for all Utahns. The status quo does not provide that,” Bishop said in a statement.

“Utah is a public lands state. It has always been, and it always will be. The question is how those public lands are managed. That's where local government has the advantage. PLI takes that premise and builds it to a reality.”

The bill serves in part to try to prevent President Obama from unilaterally declaring a 1.9 million-acre national monument in Bear’s Ears. Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellNational parks pay the price for Trump's Independence Day spectacle Overnight Energy: Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone | UN report offers dire climate warning | Trump expected to lift ethanol restrictions Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone MORE is traveling to Utah this week to meet with local and state officials about the monument proposal — which the administration has not endorsed — and other ideas.

Bishop initially reached out to conservation groups in writing the initiative, but many dropped out of the process along the way, like the Center for Western Priorities and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.

The Center for Western Priorities criticized the Thursday proposal, saying Obama should create the monument.

“Unless this bill makes it to the President’s desk in a matter of weeks with necessary improvements, it will be incumbent on President Obama to ensure lands in Southern Utah are protected after an eight decade effort,” Jennifer Rokala, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement.