Sen. Orrin Hatch, alongside the Utah Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands and oil industry executives, is currently pushing for the creation of wilderness in Southern Utah. And it’s all a front to insure oil drilling and mining in the area for years to come.
Confused yet? Let me explain. It all started with the formation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah that’s beauty can only be rivaled by its size. The creation of this monument blocked off access to coal mining, so the industry started to think of ways to insure future access to Utah’s fossil fuels and uranium. And this is when it hit them. If they could just create a “pseudo”-wilderness area that carved out access to these dirty fuels, they would be free of the threat of another monument. Thus, H.R. 5727 was born.
Ray Peterson, Emery County’s public lands director, said, “We were very careful, we didn’t want to eliminate any resource use to create wilderness” at a public meeting held on June 19. Beforehand, Peterson had talked about how he met with executives from the fossil fuel and mining industry many times before drawing the lines of the wilderness designation, making it clear the industry and deregulation are the true purposes behind the designation. Moreover, this bill is but a Trojan horse, disguising itself as wilderness but seeking deregulation and destruction.
Emery County Commission Chair Lynn Sitterud, an advocate for the bill, said at the meeting, “I would rather not have one acre of wilderness in the state of Utah.” Yet he hopes that this pseudo-wilderness area will block the creation of a monument in the future. It is clear that this bill is in no way environmental and that it will lead to the destruction, not protection, of our precious public lands. Furthermore, this bill also calls for multiple use, opening up adjacent areas to not only mining and grazing, but logging too.
Ron Dean, the eastern Utah director for Hatch, and an avid advocate of H.R. 5727, went as far as calling Bears Ears National Monument an injustice. Clearly, the man hasn’t the slightest idea what the term “injustice” means, as Bears Ears National Monument is to be managed by the Five Tribes Coalition, a coalition of Native American tribes that have all suffered from systemic environmental injustices. And environmental injustices will only be exasperated if H.R. 5727 is to pass. By creating this pseudo-wilderness in Emery County, and pushing for the proliferation of mineral, uranium and fossil fuel extraction, environmental injustices will spread throughout the land. The externalities will be felt in all of the surrounding areas as all of the profits flow out of Utah and into the hands of oil industry executives, only to return as donations to political campaigns.
It is scary that we live in a time where “wilderness” is being used as a tool to destroy the fragile ecosystems we all adore. These lands are public lands for a reason. Their beauty inspires millions to visit Utah each year. Many of us find peace and security just knowing that these public lands exist. Others travel across the world just to climb and hike in these areas. Because of these reasons and countless others, we must do what we can to stop H.R. 5727, insuring access to these public lands for generations to come.
Alec Quick, Holladay, recently graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in environmental and sustainability Studies, minors in geography and political science.