Representatives from the office of Congressman Jason Chaffetz visited recently in San Juan County to discuss the initiative. They include Communications Director Jennifer Scott, Press Secretary MJ Henshaw, and Energy and Natural Resource Advisor Kelsey Berg.
A final “discussion draft” of the proposed legislation is expected to be released in coming weeks. The Congressmen hope for support from local residents when the legislation is introduced before the House of Representatives.
“This is the only proposal that has involved local residents in the process,” said Jenifer Scott. “It has been a big effort and we want to get it right. We want a bill that will pass, and we want certainty in the process.”
The Public Lands Initiative is an effort to settle decades-long public lands questions through congressional action. President Obama has threatened to use executive action to unilateral deal with these issues.
Utah Congressmen Chaffetz and Rob Bishop have worked for several years to develop the Public Lands Initiative.
It is hoped by the Congressmen that the effort to invite every party to the table and to drive the process with intense local involvement will result in a lands bill with broad public support.
Seven counties participated in the process, with the latest entry being the San Juan County proposal, which was submitted in August. Other counties participating in the process include Uintah, Carbon, Summit, Duchesne, Emery, and Grand counties.
The representatives of Congressman Chaffetz’ office called the effort “a great collaborative effort, a county-up approach that involves local residents in the process.”
A key feature of the proposed legislation is that the Antiquities Act could not be used by the President to create national monuments in the seven-county area. In 1996, Pres. Bill Clinton unilaterally declared the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument using the Antiquities Act with no local input.
Prior Congressional actions have exempted executive use of the Antiquities Act in Alaska and Wyoming.
Another feature of the legislation is a transfer of lands controlled by the State Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). This will account for several hundred thousand acres in the proposal and would move the SITLA lands to more usable areas.
Three counties, including San Juan, Uintah and Carbon, included an Energy Zone in the recommendation. The Energy Zone would include “expedited permitting” for projects within the Energy Zone.
It is anticipated that a draft of the Public Lands Initiative could be presented before the U.S. House of Representatives in September.
According to the staff members, the recommendations made by each county forms the base for the proposal.
Emery County is considering a possible Jurassic National Monument designation for the Cleveland Lloyd Park, an quarry near Cleveland which includes the highest concentration of dinosaur remains in North America. In addition, Uintah County is considering an upgrade of Dinosaur National Monument, possibly to National Park status.
According to Chaffetz’ staff, there is no consideration for a national monument in or near San Juan County. The Public Lands Initiative was developed, in part, to help counter threats of the unilateral designation of national monuments in the area.
In recent months, environmental advocacy groups have pushed for the creation of new national monuments in San Juan County, including the proposed Greater Canyonlands National Monument and the Bears Ears Proposal.