For the first time in many Utah legislative sessions, there was little push this year for transferring public lands to the state.
But lawmakers did propose numerous bills, resolutions and budget items aimed at getting greater local and state influence over land-use decision making and promoting the oil, gas and mining industries.
For example, HJR1 and HJR2, respectively, call on the federal government to exempt Utah from future monument designations under the Antiquities Act and relocate federal land agency headquarters from Washington D.C. to Utah.
HJR2 passed unanimously. The Antiquities Act resolution was a much harder sell, yet it also passed the Senate Thursday 20-6.
Another bill sought to indemnify local officials who take action “abating a catastrophic public nuisance” on public lands. The idea was to empower sheriffs to log timber in national forests that are overgrown and prone to burn, but Rep. Ken Ivory’s HB415 died in the Senate without a hearing.
The same fate befell Rep. Mike Noel’s HB136, which would have restricted city officials from advocating for special federal designations on public lands, such national monuments or wilderness, without consulting state lawmakers.
Meanwhile, lawmakers authorized a $1.65 million spending item sought by Noel, R-Kanab, to hire lawyers to sue California over its climate policies that penalize purchases of electricity produced with coal.
Republican lawmakers say the state’s cap and trade program on greenhouse gas emissions violates the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause and they hope to overturn price penalties that California imposes on coal-fired electricity generated at Utah’s Intermountain Power Plant near Delta.
Noel also hoped to voice rural Utahns’ gratitude to President Donald Trump for reducing Utah’s two large national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, with a renaming of the 631-mile Utah National Parks Highway in Trump’s honor. But his HB481 was withdrawn after Navajo tribal leader called the proposal an insult and Gov. Gary Herbert suggested bestowing such an honor on Trump is “premature.”
Another successful resolution, SCR8, calls on Congress to pass a bill that would write into law Trump’s action to trim the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. A measure sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, would also establish an Escalante Canyons National Park on some of the land remaining in the monument, with management controlled by local and state officials.
Orem Republican Sen. Margaret Dayton’s proposal for state park status for the entire Hole-in-the-Rock Trail, which crosses land removed from the two monuments, sailed through both chambers without a single nay vote.
HB272 proposed giving private real estate developers the state-owned bed of Utah Lake in exchange for spending billions restoring the ecologically compromised lake. The bill, which encourages residential development on proposed islands in the middle of the lake, passed late Thursday.