Right On: The best response to Bears Ears overreach

This is a cropped portion of a file photo from Patagonia shows the Cedar Mesa region of the Bears Ears National Monument declared by presidential order Dec. 28, 2016. Southeast Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Patagonia, St. George News

OPINION – Obama overreached when he designated the Bears Ears National Monument on Dec. 28, 2016. But we need a long-term solution, not a knee-jerk partisan reaction.

Despite our elected officials’ statements to the contrary, a majority of Utahns support the Bears Ears National Monument. Two polls, one conducted by Colorado College and another by Public Opinion Strategies, reported that over two-thirds of Utahns polled support the national monument. But as reported in St. George News on New Year’s Eve, little of that support comes from San Juan County.

A word of caution about these poll results: A large proportion of those randomly selected for polling came from the Wasatch front, far from Bears Ears. If instead, a large tract in the Wasatch mountains was being considered, limiting recreational activities, a “not in my backyard” factor would significantly decrease positive responses.

Nevertheless, both polls indicate Utah citizen support for Bears Ears.

According to the Colorado College poll, 87 percent of those polled want elected officials to find common ground on conservation issues. And that is exactly what Rep. Jason Chaffetz claims has been done. Chaffetz, whose district includes Bears Ears, says thePublic Lands Initiative had “put on the table” what he terms a “comprehensive bipartisan solution” to preserving and protecting the area.

Who could argue with that?

The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, representing the Hopi, Navajo, Uintah Ouray Ute, Zuni and Ute Mountain Ute nations, disagrees.

The coalition has worked for years to protect the land in question from looting, desecration and exploitation. They presented a Native American proposal for the land to the Public Lands Initiative in more than two dozen meetings with elected officials and others.

The coalition says it asked for feedback at these meetings both in Utah and in the District of Columbia. They claim no one from the Utah delegation or the Public Lands Initiative made a substantive comment.

So we have a “he said, she said” conundrum. Rep. Chaffetz says the Public Lands Initiative had a bipartisan solution on the table while the tribes say they have been ignored.

If there was a bipartisan agreement, it has quickly fallen apart. Every Native American, Democrat and environmental group that has spoken out has applauded the designation. Every Republican elected official has expressed outrage.

Taken at face value, the officials’ outrage is directed at Obama for ignoring the wishes of those directly affected and for ignoring every elected official who represents them.

While support for Bears Ears is substantial, Obama’s action is seen by these officials as settling accounts with Utah Republicans, three of whom hold Congressional leadership posts. They also point out that Obama once again ignored existing federal law.

Obama disregarded the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 as amended and the National Environmental Policy Act, both of which require environmental review and public comment. Complying with these laws would have delayed a decision into the Trump administration. Obama had no time to listen to deplorable (Hillary’s word) ranchers and from other local interests who are most directly affected.

Republicans say they have a variety of options to overturn the monument designation. But if they succeed, Republicans will be painted as anti-Native American and anti-environment. They will also be seen as catering to mining and drilling interests who donate to their campaigns. These charges may not lose elections in Utah but could influence close elections in other states.

This writer does not believe that partisan pushback against Obama’s overreach will be worth the political fallout. And it will not reflect the preferences of many Utah citizens.

Instead, now is the time to amend the  1906 Antiquities Act. The act has become politicized. Want proof? President Obama used the Antiquities Act to create the Stonewall National Monument in Manhattan, New York. The Stonewall Inn in 1969 was a Mafia-owned bar with a large LGBT clientele. A police raid sparked riots that launched the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights movement.

Some will argue that Stonewall is worthy of national monument status. How would they feel about President Trump designating a Benghazi consulate massacre national monument? How about a Tea Party national monument? The process could go on as future Republican and Democratic presidents indulge their partisan political interests.

A solution is obvious: Require Congressional approval for all future national monument designations. Such approval would be analogous to the Senate’s advice and consent for cabinet officers, ambassadors and the like and would assure that the affected state’s representatives were heard.

Interestingly, two states are already afforded Congressional review and approval: Wyoming and Alaska. Both had national monuments designated that drew Congressional ire. The Antiquities Act was amended after each case, preventing unilateral presidential action – but only in those two states.

Eight years of Obama’s far-left imperial rule by executive order has hardened positions on both sides of the divide. He continues to take end-of-term actions intended to make life difficult for the new administration.

When running for president in 2008, Obama promised to “reach across the aisle.” His Bears Ears overreach is yet another example of his unbending partisanship.

Republicans should avoid further poisoning the political climate by abolishing Bear Ears or otherwise undermining it. Instead, amend the misused Antiquities Act.

Howard Sierer is a developing columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.


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  • Pheo January 5, 2017 at 9:38 am

    A little homework would help you not to embarrass yourself.

    “Obama’s far-left imperial rule by executive order”

    What universe do you live in? Let’s break down your sentence.

    “Far-left” – What far-left things has Obama done? Universal healthcare? He wouldn’t even push for the public option in hopes for a bipartisan approach to health care reform, which was obviously not going to happen. The Republican idea he ended up pushing (through congress, by the way) was in the form of Obamacare.

    “Imperial” means of or relating to an empire. So unless you are accusing Obama of expanding the American empire, imperial is the wrong word here.

    “rule by executive order” – Obama has used executive order less than any recent Republican, including George W. Bush, Saint Ronald Reagan, Nixon, and Eisenhower. George Herbert Walker Bush and Gerald Ford were on pace to use it more than Obama, but they didn’t serve second terms. In fact, you have to go back to Chester Arthur to find a president that used executive order less frequently than Obama.

    By the way, I love how states’ rights is the most important thing to conservatives until the state actually agrees with the liberal, in which case, the counties’ rights should reign supreme. You know what? Maybe the HOA should be the most important form of government. I don’t need those elitist city council folks downtown wielding their power over my neighborhood!

    • comments January 5, 2017 at 12:14 pm

      I keep telling the brainwashed right-wing sheeple that if you discount Obongo’s support of LGBTQ-rstuvwxyz agendas Obongo is farther right than moderate. If Obongo had been pres in the 80s he could have been considered a conservative republican as far as his economic policies. Obongo has been very very good for wallstreet and banks and most all corporatists, that’s for sure.

      • .... January 5, 2017 at 6:24 pm

        Well at least he’s not a racist hating bigot like you are Bob. but I’m still glad to see him leave the white house. but he’s leaving the house as a more respectable person than you will ever be

  • old school January 5, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Utah has historically resented Federal involvement since Brighton Young established Deseret in the 1800’s (except when allocating funds). This is just another example of when public out cry prompted the Federal Government to step in to correct years of abuse and neglect

  • Waid January 5, 2017 at 11:19 am

    This statement is laughable — “Eight years of Obama’s far-left imperial rule by executive order has hardened positions on both sides of the divide. He continues to take end-of-term actions intended to make life difficult for the new administration.” Republicans in Congress met and decided even before President Obama was elected that they would prevent him from accomplishing anything while in office. They dug in their heals and maintained this negative policy of complete non-cooperation/non-compromise for eight years, the first time such a debacle has ever been perpetrated by members of Congress. The Republicans left President Obama with no choice but to use executive powers in order to accomplish anything during his time in office.

    Republicans have decided that winning is now their only objective, and they are taking no prisoners. Doing what is best for the country and its citizens is obviously no longer part of the Republican Party’s agenda. Unfortunately, the Republican lie machine, lead by Faux News and right-wing hate radio, is so effective that they have succeeded in brainwashing a large minority of voters into believing their hogwash.

    The Republicans, lead by Putin’s Trumpuppet, are in the process of turning over the keys of the treasury to Wall Street; of environmental protection to Big Fossil Fuels; of civil rights law to a racist bigot; of defense to a conspiracy theory nutcase; and so on — Trump’s little cabinet of horrors. The worst damage — damage that will last for decades — will be perpetrated if any of The Trumpuppet’s Supreme Court picks are confirmed. That would continue the destruction done by extreme-right-wing activist judge Tony Scalia who always attempted to strip individual citizens of their constitutional rights in favor of powerful corporations.

    With huge deficit increases on the horizon from the Republicans’ planned tax cuts for the wealthy, plus removal of all restrictions on Wall Street, and increasing war (“defense”) and infrastructure spending, we are likely to see another economic collapse in the near future. Won’t that be fun? Of course, the big banks will again make out like bandits, protected by Trump’s little cabinet of horrors, while the vast majority of citizens suffer. In the meantime, Putin and The Trumpuppet will use their positions to make billion$ in profits for themselves.

    The 114th Congress was the worst ever. It’s very likely that the 115th, in combination with the new prexy will set the bar far lower. It’s going to be an interesting four to eight years!

  • Chris January 5, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Howard’s columns become more insipid each week. He is truly a “one trick pony”, endlessly complaining about the Obama years with little or nothing in the way of facts to support him. His argument here is particularly ridiculous. On the one hand, he acknowledges that public opinion supports the Bears Ears monument, but goes on to claim that Obama “overreached.” So, Obama used legitimate executive power to accomplish what the people wanted. How dare he do something so outrageous! Howard, your writing is atrocious, your logic is nonexistent, and your command of the facts is an embarrassment.

    • comments January 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm

      I agree, it seems he’s just regurgitating talking points he’s soaked up, not really any original thoughts. he should go work for nbc

  • anybody home January 5, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    Note to Spectrum editor: Give this bozo the hook. He’s not a writer. He’s an engineer with a rant. And a one-note rant at that. For heaven’s sake, find somebody who knows how to use the English language and make cogent arguments. Guess you got him free or something. Is he a relative?

  • commonsense January 6, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Nice piece Howard. Barrack Hussein Obama has taken the executive order to a new level of trampling separation of power. Contrary to Pheo, BHO has evoked executive order (of any substance) more than any president in history. Previous presidents have reserved it for minor convenience but never policy bypass of congress. I hope the party in power will respect the checks and balances intended by the founding fathers in the Constitution.

    • Pheo January 6, 2017 at 11:12 am

      Wait. His middle name is Hussein? Oh my gosh, this changes everything! I’ve been wrong all along!

    • Chris January 6, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      “evoked”??? Do you mean “invoke”? You are apparently less literate than Howard. BTW, you are wrong about the executive orders, but of course, the Obama haters like you and Howie are wrong about pretty much everything.

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