SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Republicans in the U.S. House say they stand ready to push legislation the state's two senators filed to stop presidents from creating national monuments in Utah without federal and state approval.
But the state's lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, isn't standing with them on legislation introduced this week by Utah GOP Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney to exempt the state from the Antiquities Act. A chorus of environmental groups also oppose the proposed Protect Utah's Rural Economy Act.
"For too long, Utah has been vulnerable to the whims of Washington. Decisions for Utah should be made by Utahns. Who best knows the state than those who depend on Utah lands for their livelihoods?" Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and John Curtis said in a joint statement Friday.
The bill would prohibit presidents from designating or expanding national monuments in Utah without the consent of Congress and the state Legislature.
Lee said it would protect the state from "abuses" in much the same way Alaska and Wyoming are currently protected. He said it would give rural communities a voice they don't have now.
McAdams said the Antiquities Act is one approach for directing the management of federally owned public lands.
"However, my preferred approach toward preserving our landscapes for future generations and also balancing local interests is to bring people together and forge a local consensus through listening and finding areas of agreement," he said.
"I look forward to working with the other members of Utah's congressional delegation to see if we can find consensus."
McAdams said Utah's public lands are a national treasure and a major driving force in the state's economy.
The three GOP congressmen say the Antiquities Act has become a "political weapon" and Utah is still dealing with the ramifications of former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barak Obama creating the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bear Ears national monuments, respectively.
President Donald Trump slashed the sizes of both monuments, but his action is being challenged in court.
Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the bill is latest in a long line of "extremist anti-conservation bills" to come from Utah's congressional delegation.
"The short-sightedness of the act should be expected from Sen. Lee, but it is extremely disappointing to see one of Sen. Romney's first acts in Congress be such unconsidered parroting of worn-out anti-environmental talking points," he said.
"Millions of Americans support national monuments and the Antiquities Act," said Dan Hartinger, national monuments campaign manager for the Wilderness Society.
"Poll after poll demonstrates that Americans, including Utahns, are against Congress blocking protections for new or existing parks and national monuments," he said.34 comments on this story
Lee said, "Rural Americans want what all Americans want: a dignified decent-paying job, a family to love and support, and a healthy community whose future is determined by local residents, not their self-styled betters thousands of miles away."
Romney said Washington bureaucrats for too long have dictated to counties, ranchers and recreators how and if they can use their lands. He said the bill returns the decision-making and management power of public lands to those closest to the land.