Environment | National | Politics

House committee considers controversial Utah public lands bill





UDB volunteers, Board, and staff representing #BearsEars Nat'l Monument in the Navajo Nation Fair Parade today in Window...

Posted by Utah Diné Bikéyah on Saturday, September 10, 2016

Members of the House Natural Resources Committee are meeting on Wednesday to take testimony on a controversial bill that has drawn opposition from tribes and conservation groups.

H.R.5780, the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, includes provisions to set aside 1.4 million acres in Utah as a national conservation area. But an inter-tribal group says the bill doesn't go far enough to protect sacred lands, burial grounds, ancestral sites and other important places.

"The current version of the PLI is highly protective of mining and other forms of development to the detriment of land protection," the co-chairs of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition wrote in a July 23 letter, adding that the tribes and the Republican proponents of H.R.5780 are "miles apart" on key issues, including the borders of the proposed conservation area.

The tribes have instead called on President Barack Obama to declare Bears Ears as a national monument. In July, they made their case directly to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who spent four days in Utah to learn more about the area.


Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the committee, is hoping to prevent Obama from taking that step by including Bears Ears in the Utah Public Lands Initiative. But in case his bill doesn't become law -- time is already scarce in the 114th Congress in a busy and heated election year -- Republicans in the House are also trying to curtail the president's powers with an appropriations bill that bars the establishment of a monument in the counties in Utah at issue.

The witness list for the hearing on Wednesday includes Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, the co-chair of the coalition and a council member for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. Also making an appearance is Rebecca Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation who serves on the commission in San Juan County and who opposes the creation of a monument.

Leaders of the Navajo Nation, however, support a monument and six of the seven Navajo Nation chapters in Utah also support the monument.

The hearing before the Subcommittee on Federal Lands takes place at 10am on Wednesday in Room 1334 of the Longworth House Office Building. The full witness list follows:

Ms. Rebecca Benally
Commissioner, San Juan County
Monticello, Utah

Mr. Clif Koontz
Program Director
Ride With Respect
Moab, Utah

Mr. Neil Kornze
Director
Bureau of Land Management
Washington, D.C.

Ms. Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk
Co-Chairwoman
Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition
Towaoc, Colorado

Mr. Dave Ure
Director
School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration
Salt Lake City, Utah

Ms. Leslie Weldon
Deputy Chief, National Forest System
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Washington, D.C.

House Committee on Natural Resources Notice:
Legislative Hearing on H.R. 5780 “Utah Public Lands Initiative Act” (September 14, 2016)

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