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Utah leaders 'disappointed' in Biden's plan to restore Bears Ears, Grand Staircase

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FILE - This May 30, 1997, file photo, shows the varied terrain of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument near Boulder, Utah. The U.S. government’s final management plan for lands in and around the Utah national monument that President Donald Trump downsized doesn’t include many new protections for the cliffs, canyons, waterfalls and arches found there, but it does include a few more safeguards than were in a proposal issued last year. The Bureau of Land Management’s plan for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southwestern Utah codifies that the lands cut out of the monument will be open to mineral extraction such as oil, gas and coal as expected, according to a plan summary the agency provided to The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, File)

Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah's entire congressional delegation are calling on President Joe Biden to not expand the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

They sent a letter to the White House last week explaining their concerns.

Changing the size of the monuments every four or eight years isn't helpful for anyone who cares about the land, antiquities, and local communities," the letter states. "Involving the legislative branch allows us to find ways to help the struggling economies of these counties and to consider creative solutions that tribal governments and other organizations have requested.

In it, Utah leaders said they're disappointed they were not contacted before Biden made the unilateral announcement.

"However, we recognize that presidents do have the authority to create or modify the boundaries of national monuments, even when there is not local consensus or support. A decision to expand both monuments back to their original size or larger would satisfy some, but would represent a missed opportunity to build bridges and create long term certainty. We urge you to use the review period to engage and negotiate with Utah elected officials, tribal governments, relevant communities, and other impacted stakeholders to create an enduring solution for both of these beautiful areas of our state," the letter states.

U.S. Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Mitt Romney (R-UT), Reps. Chris Stewart (R-UT), John Curtis (R-UT), Burgess Owens (R-UT), and Blake Moore (R-UT), as well as state officials including Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Attorney General Sean Reyes, Senate President Stuart Adams, and Speaker of the bHouse Brad Wilson, are hoping for more collaboration in the future.

"In particular, we hope you will offer support and sufficient time to negotiate a legislative solution, which would produce a broader and more permanent solution than anything that can be done through executive authority," the letter states.

This is our goal—to make long-lasting progress on managing our public lands. We stand ready to work with you, and we ask for your leadership and strong support to reach such solutions.

This letter was released weeks after Utah leaders expressed concern about Biden's plan to review the 2017 shrinking of the monuments.

President Bill Clinton created Grand Staircase in 1996, and President Barack Obama created Bears Ears in 2016. The cuts made by President Donald Trump paved the way for potential coal mining and oil and gas drilling on lands that used to be off-limits.

Bears Ears National Monument was reduced by 85% or about 1.3 million acres and Grand Staircase-Escalante by 47%, or 900,000 acres.

After previously expressing frustration with Biden's executive order for a boundary review of two national monuments in Utah, Lee and Romney have introduced legislation to limit the president's power.

Lee states the bill would prohibit the president from establishing or expanding a national monument in Utah, unless Congress and the Utah legislature authorize it.

Read the letter in its entirety here:

“We were disappointed there was no invitation for discussion prior to the announcement. We expect and hope for closer collaboration between our state and your administration on matters that directly impact Utah and our residents.

However, we recognize that presidents do have the authority to create or modify the boundaries of national monuments, even when there is not local consensus or support. A decision to expand both monuments back to their original size or larger would satisfy some, but would represent a missed opportunity to build bridges and create long term certainty. We urge you to use the review period to engage and negotiate with Utah elected officials, tribal governments, relevant communities, and other impacted stakeholders to create an enduring solution for both of these beautiful areas of our state.

In particular we hope you will offer support and sufficient time to negotiate a legislative solution, which would produce a broader and more permanent solution than anything that can be done through executive authority. Neither the original executive actions that created these monuments nor President Trump's reductions accomplished what we believe should be the most important goals for both the Biden Administration and the state of Utah regarding these lands: 1) to protect sensitive areas and cultural resources—including the use of robust law enforcement and educational resources to prevent irreparable damage—and 2) to provide long term certainty and predictability for managing these lands. Changing the size of the monuments every four or eight years isn't helpful for anyone who cares about the land, antiquities, and local communities.

In addition to providing long term certainty and genuine protections, legislation would allow Congress to exercise the power of the purse in appropriating funds for the management and protection of the lands in question. Involving the legislative branch allows us to find ways to help the struggling economies of these counties and to consider creative solutions that tribal governments and other organizations have requested.

We believe all options should be on the table to find a long-lasting comprehensive solution. This could include solutions to better manage the land for a wide variety of stakeholders, including increased tribal involvement in management decisions, local museums or interpretive sites, clarifying allowable uses (including where mineral development is, or is not, appropriate), ending of the “ping ponging” of the size of the monument, and more. These are all topics that should be on the table but can't be accomplished by the Antiquities Act alone.

Beyond these advantages, a legislative solution would offer important consensus building benefits. Unilateral monument decisions—whether creating, expanding, or contracting— have a long history of generating resentment and bitterness nationally and among communities in Utah. These decisions have previously led to significant reforms — reforms that, once enacted, have guaranteed the affected states a fair process with regard to monument designation and have led to better collaboration by all sides on land management. We support a change that would leave broad land designation authority in Utah to rest solely with Congress, which requires collaboration, but we recognize that this is not the current legal framework. The consensus required for successful negotiation would prove an effective way to lower the temperature and allow for good faith progress on other challenges.

This is our goal—to make long-lasting progress on managing our public lands. We stand ready to work with you, and we ask for your leadership and strong support to reach such solutions.”

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