Make highways great again?
Rep. Mike Noel is proposing to rename a route through southern Utah as the “Donald J. Trump National Parks Highway.”
Noel, R-Kanab, famous for fighting the federal government over public lands, says it would help send the message that “contrary to some beliefs out there, Donald Trump really is a supporter of public lands. He’s a big supporter of national parks.”
Part of his motive for introducing HB481, said Noel, is to thank Trump for shrinking the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
That action has been decried as a travesty by environmentalists and American Indian tribes, who are challenging the executive orders in federal court. And Noel’s bill is seen by some as a stunt aimed at rubbing salt in the wound.
"We are not going to waste any of our time on his ludicrous bill. I would certainly hope he’s not serious about it. It looks like a message bIll to me," said Ashley Soltysiak, of the Sierra Club.
Noel says he’s serious about his proposal.
“For me personally, I was really, really happy that he downsized the Grand Staircase monument and Bears Ears because I believe that multiple use of public lands with adequate environmental protections is better than taking everything off the table,” Noel said.
The Western Values Project, an environmental advocacy group, recently shined the spotlight on Noel’s apparent conflict in owning land inside the original Grand Staircase monument that ended up outside monument boundaries after Trump’s action.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., has asked the Interior Department whether the agency was ever informed of those landholdings — which were not disclosed on Noel’s conflict-of-interest forms.
“Rep. Noel’s failure of transparency and the Interior Department’s apparent failure to learn of this financial stake in a major policy decision have national consequences,” wrote Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.
Noel has disputed any conflict, saying he disclosed the name of a farm that includes the land in question, although under a different name than the one legally registered with the state. He also said his land may have been worth more inside the monument than outside of it.
Noel contends that national monuments hurt local residents’ “ability to graze cattle, the ability to cut firewood. In Kane County, our film industry suffered because they can’t film out there…. Monuments closed down roads and access.”
Noel adds, “Donald Trump is getting a bad rap on these monuments. That’s wrong. I think he was very sincere about wanting to protect public lands.”
Noel said “people in the state ought to have more say on these monuments because they have such an impact on the state as a whole.” Trump, he added, recognizes that interest.
The bill would rename the already existing National Parks Highway. It winds on several federal and state highways from near Lake Powell to Grand Staircase, Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Arches national parks.
Noel’s bill would order the Utah Department of Transportation to add Trump’s name along the route, and for the designation to appear on state maps.
Utah or Congress has on occasion named highways for politicians — but after they left office, such as highways named for former U.S. Reps. Jim Hansen (part of U.S. 89 in Davis County) and Gunn McKay (near Pineview Reservoir).
Noel said he expects a hearing on the bill on Monday — the last day that hearings are scheduled for this legislative session. He will likely get that wish because he is chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee that assigns bills to committees for hearings.
“It may be a circus,” he said, expecting plenty of opposition from environmental groups.