2017 Interim Session – Public Lands Update

Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee

This meeting started late, much to the chagrin of committee chair, Sen. Margaret Dayton. (She hates that.)

During the “Committee Business” portion at the beginning of the meeting, committee chair, Rep. Keven Stratton, mentioned potential studies for the committee to consider. Among them? “Oil and gas operations…and potential oil exploration in or near the Bears Ears National Monument.” To shed some light on the topic, Rep. Mike Noel was allowed to speak of his interactions with Secretary Zinke during his visit to Utah.

Noel distributed a handout of a legal analysis of the Antiquities Act, which came from the American Enterprise Institute. (AEI is a conservative think tank known for its Koch brothers connections – but we digress.) Based on this analysis, Noel stated the current president, Trump, has every right to undo what a former president has designated and that there is a history of these actions.

Noel elaborated on his visit with Secretary Zinke, which began with a 4 or 5 hour helicopter tour of the Bears Ears region, involved a 3-hour horseback riding tour of the Bears Ears region, and a 45-minute ride on the Governor’s plane back to Kanab. (Is anybody tallying these hours?) Noel claimed Zinke believes that, given existing environmental laws like NEPA and FLPMA, there are adequate protection options for these areas. He went on to say a monument designation’s intent is to provide access to people, yet the reality is it restricts people (for example, RS 2477 roads found within Grand Staircase). His specific words were “a lock up,” at which point he name-dropped the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and “other entities that are in this for their own money and their own benefit and not for the people of this state.” Well then.

Since Mike Noel and like-minded people were meeting with Zinke by helicopter and by horseback for hours and hours, it is difficult to know the details of what they discussed. Yet such a legal report and animosity shown toward groups like SUWA could lead us to believe it was definitely not a balanced discussion – and we have a great deal to fear for the future of our monuments. (But we digress.)

Later in the meeting, Kathleen Clark, Coordinator with the Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office (PLPCO), presented. She immediately mentioned the shift in actions as a result of the new presidential administration – namely that PLPCO was not seeing as many actions requiring them to “push back on.” (Interesting.)

Of concern to us is how PLPCO deals with RS 2477 claims, which is a bill dealing with rights-of-way claims to “highways” over public lands. It was repealed in the ‘70s, but roads existing before the bill are exempt. Proving these roads existed before 1976 is the issue at hand, and PLPCO goes to great lengths to find witnesses who can testify to such road use.

No surprise, Rep. Noel had something to say about RS 2477 depositions and federal government funding. His suggestion? Send a letter to Sec. Zinke regarding getting funding help with RS 2477 depositions and wild horses and burros. “I think he’ll do it.” Hmm.
Listen to the madness here.

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