Over the past year we have helped spearhead an initiative to resolve long-standing public land disputes in eastern Utah. This broader lands initiative represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to resolve many deep-seated, decades-long land, economic development and wilderness conflicts.
The School and Institutional Trust Land’s Administration has been an active participant in this process. In fact, SITLA has identified more than 300,000 acres of energy-producing lands they desire to acquire through this broader lands effort, and we are committed to doing everything within our power to benefit Utah’s schoolchildren.
In recent discussions surrounding SITLA’s decision to lease the Book Cliffs block in northern Grand and southern Uintah counties, we asked SITLA to consider providing time and flexibility to push for this broader deal that could result in the development of most of the Book Cliffs and set aside an additional 300,000 acres of SITLA land for energy development.
We did not ask SITLA to neglect or ignore its fiduciary responsibility to Utah’s schoolchildren. Rather, our goal was always to augment the worth of trust assets to benefit Utah’s kids and demonstrate our commitment that energy development could be done responsibly.
We are pleased a mutually beneficial agreement was reached by SITLA to provide time and space to work out this larger compromise, for the benefit of all interests, including outdoor recreationists, sportsmen and conservationists.
The 27-month delay in exploration activities in the Bogart Canyon area allows consideration for potential alternatives in connection with the broader public lands initiative. The arrangement reflects an inclusive and balanced approach to responsible resource development.
Supporting SITLA’s mission is at the heart of our broader lands initiative, an effort to optimize long-term benefits for the trust.
In fact, one of the driving justifications for this extensive collaborative effort is our belief that consolidating trust lands in energy-rich areas in exchange for protection of some of Utah’s iconic and sensitive landscapes is good for school kids, good for the environment and good for Utah.
Finally, it is important to make clear that school trust lands are not state lands. School trust lands are unique both in origin and purpose. These lands were set aside at statehood for the explicit and sole purpose of developing revenue for Utah schools.
We wholeheartedly support this mission and praise the expansion of the trust fund over the past decade. The state Constitution and subsequent state law make it clear that SITLA lands were set aside to be administered for the exclusive benefit of the trust beneficiaries, i.e., Utah’s schoolchildren.
We share the same goal — to find a solution that provides optimal results for all Utahns — especially our school kids.
We are confident the agreement reached this past week moves us in that direction.
Gary R. Herbert is the Governor of Utah. Rob Bishop represents the 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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