Resolution to reduce the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument could cost state $20 million

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Aug. 1, 2012 | Photo by Bob Wick courtesy of BLM Flickr, BLM California, St. George News
Stock image | St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY – In a move that could potentially cost the state $20 million, Utah legislators passed a resolution Wednesday calling for Utah’s congressional delegation to support a reduction in the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

The Utah Senate voted 25-4 Wednesday for HCR12, formally titled “Concurrent Resolution Urging Federal Legislation to Reduce or Modify the Boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument.”

HCR12 calls on Congress to reduce or modify the 1.88 million acre monument designated in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton.

“Why would something like this be designated with one person signing a declaration using the Antiquities Act, which was not meant to deal with this size of the acreage that was considered for this monument?” Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe said. “Twenty years later, why shouldn’t we still have those discussions about what makes sense to be designated as a monument?”

Okerlund, the Senate sponsor of HCR12, told his fellow lawmakers that the designation was made without any local or state input.

“The locals do not support it and they will not until we finally get to a point where they have some ability to be able to participate in the process,” Okerlund said. “Here’s our chance to be able to do something that will make a difference. It will make sure the next generation does not grow up hating what has happened to them by a stroke of a pen.”

Okerlund said the Grand Staircase-Escalante monument is larger than all five national parks in Utah combined.

The resolution follows the passage of a similar one last week that asks President Donald Trump to rescind the state’s newest monument, Bears Ears, set aside by then-President Barack Obama in the last weeks of his presidency.


Read more: Utah Republicans bristle at Bears Ears National Monument designation


Like the Bears Ears resolution, support for the legislation largely came from the Republican majority including Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights. Shiozawa was the only GOP senator to oppose the Bears Ears resolution stating he had hoped for a compromise.

Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, was the only Democrat to vote in favor of the legislation. Davis described the resolution as nonpartisan.

“This is not a discussion to do away with the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” Davis said. “But rather, let’s sit down and negotiate some of the boundaries.”

Still, Davis’s support came with the reservation that the measure could cost the state money from outdoor retailers already threatening to pull out of this year’s Outdoor Retailer convention slated for July.

The convention is held twice yearly in Salt Lake City. It is estimated to bring in $20 million into the local economy.

Patagonia president Rose Marcario announced Monday the clothing company’s plan to sit out the convention unless it was moved to another state due to Utah’s “hostile environment” and “blatant disregard” for public lands.

“Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution on Friday urging the Trump administration to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument, making it clear that he and other Utah elected officials do not support public lands conservation nor do they value the economic benefits – $12 billion in consumer spending and 122,000 jobs – that the outdoor recreation industry bring to their state,” Marcario said in a statement on the company’s website.

Stock image | St. George News / Cedar City News

Marcario called for the same from other outdoor manufacturers and retailers.

Executives from Black Diamond have also raised concerns about the state’s position on taking control of the public lands.

Another Democrat, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said he felt the resolution accomplished nothing more than offending the outdoor retail industry.

“The giant sucking sound you hear from the Legislature is the sound of Utah’s greatest biannual convention leaving the state, taking with it millions of dollars and thousands of jobs,” Dabakis said.

The senator called on his fellow lawmakers to “put aside this foolishness of the last generation,” in fighting the federal government and work instead to create a better economy for Southern Utah.

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, said the outdoor retailers are only making an “idle threat.” Speaking on the Senate floor, Hinkins called on lawmakers to not “pander” to them, adding that most of their products are manufactured overseas.

Still, those advocating for the resolution spoke out in favor of safeguarding recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. They stipulated their support, however, arguing that a “mixed use” of public lands would provide more opportunities and benefits to local economies. This included the ability to mine coal and uranium deposits located within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

“You add all of the additional jobs that come along with that mining opportunity and it’s huge for that economy,” Okerlund said. “It would dwarf any economic growth that we have seen over the past 20 years.”

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, pointed to the relatively low sulfur levels within Utah’s reserves that would provide an environmental-friendly alternative to the remaining coal-fired operations throughout the country.

“If places are burning coal they ought to be burning Utah coal because it will be less impactful on the environment,” Niederhauser said.

Stock image | St. George News / Cedar City News

But Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said studies have shown that in the last two decades. the monument has brought job growth as well as increased personal income and employment. Based on that information, Escamilla said she was “struggling with understanding, again, this overblown fear that this is not working.”

The monument contains the state’s largest coal reserves that are “locked up,” and costing the area many high-paying jobs, Hinkins said, comparing the current available jobs to low-paying jobs that cater to tourists.

Hinkins, who works in the coal-mine industry, said the creation of the monument prevented the opening of an underground coal mine that would have impacted only 100 acres above ground but had the potential to provide 300 to 500 full-time jobs.

In addition, a coal-fired power plant could have been built nearby that would have created another 200 to 500 jobs, he said.

There’s no guarantee that reducing the size of the monument after 20 years will bring in the number of jobs it would have then, Okerlund said. But he feels it could potentially help the local economy while continuing to protect preservation areas.

New monument boundaries should be done with the help of the Trump administration and others, and should include slot canyons, formations and other features protected under the Antiquities Act, Okerlund said.

Several news sources have reported Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, met with Trump Tuesday and gave him a copy of the Bears Ears resolution. There was no indication of what the president’s response was to Utah’s congressman.

The resolution for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert, who is expected to sign it.

Resources

Read more: See all St. George News reports on Utah Legislature 2017 issues

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

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2 Comments

  • hiker75 February 9, 2017 at 7:16 am

    Heck, let’s not stop there. Let’s do the same with Moab and Zion as they started out as national monuments. That might ease the overcrowding of the parks.

  • Brian February 9, 2017 at 8:46 am

    I drove on dirt roads last summer from west of Kanab up to Cannonville, and the vast majority of that area didn’t need protection but was within the national monument. Basically when they created it they used a chainsaw instead of a scalpel.

    I’m all for protecting what should be protected, but not with a 50 mile border on all sides. If they had used the same approach to protecting Zion National Park everything from St. George to Cedar City would be off-limits to commercial development or oil/gas/mineral development. Literally! Look at it on Google Maps. Grand Staircase is 12.96 times the size of Zion National Park!

    That’s massive, massive over-reach that has devastated the surrounding towns. So many families were forced to move away when the jobs dried up. Keep in mind that all of these affected families were likely in favor of protecting what actually needed protecting. They love these rock formations and scenic vistas far more than someone from New York City that only visits once (or more likely only sees a picture of it on the news).

    No one is saying not to protect things. They’re saying to do it reasonably, with local involvement.

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