Scott Abbott and Sam Rushforth: Utah congressional delegation promotes a monumental fraud

Our members of Congress promote lies about the restoration of national monuments.

(Zak Podmore | The Salt Lake Tribune) Board members, staff and supporters of the Indigenous-led group Utah Diné Bikéyah celebrate President Joe Biden’s decision to restore the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument at an overlook on Cedar Mesa in San Juan County on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.

American poet e. e. cummings wrote that “a politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man.” When Utah’s senators and representatives published their Oct. 8 Deseret News opinion piece titled “A Monumental Insult,” they proved cummings right again. It may be politics as usual for these Republicans to argue against President Joe Biden’s proclamation with a series of lies rather than with well-founded arguments; lying about the facts, however, does their constituents a monumental disservice.

To make the falsehoods clear, we list several of the delegation’s lies followed by the truth of the matter.

Lie: Establishing Bears Ears “fails to include the crucial input and involvement of local tribes in protecting and highlighting their own cultural heritage.”

Truth: An inter-tribal coalition of the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Hopi Tribe, The Ute Indian Tribe and the Pueblo of Zuni presented President Barack Obama a proposal to establish the Bears Ears National Monument. More recently, the same coalition asked Biden to restore the monument after President Donald Trump’s drastic cuts.

Lie: “the very people whose lives are most affected — and who are in the best position to care for and manage the lands — are denied any say in the process.”

Truth: The San Juan County Commission supports the restoration of the monument established in their county. They and the Inter-tribal Coalition represent the people “most affected” by the monument: local citizens in excellent position to care for and manage the lands.

Lie: “Biden has ... chosen to continue the path of ignoring the concerns of Utahns themselves.”

Truth: Responding to a 2021 Colorado College poll, 74% of Utah voters either strongly support or totally support “restoring national monument protections [for] Native American Sites and [excluding] Oil, Gas, and Mineral Deposits” from development. The poll makes it clear that the Utah congressional delegation has itself “chosen to continue the path of ignoring the concerns of Utahns themselves.”

Lie: “Biden’s proclamation perpetuates a cycle of abuse under the Antiquities Act, which ignores the rights and the will of Utahns, to the detriment of the lands and those whose lives are most intertwined with them.”

Truth: Utah congressional delegations have railed against what they see as a “cycle of abuse” each time a new national monument has been established in Utah. But the preservation and enhancement of expanses that eventually became Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Bryce national parks cannot under any circumstance be classified as detrimental to the lands they encompass or to the people whose lives are most closely intertwined with them.

Utah politicians have routinely opposed the establishment of national monuments on federal lands. As in earlier cases, the “Monumental Insult” opinion piece makes its case with lies our representatives surely know are falsehoods. What are the real reasons behind their opposition?

  • They want to privatize public lands. In 2017, Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill in the House that directed the Bureau of Land Management to sell off 3.3 million acres of public lands — this following decades of Republican attempts to privatize federal lands. The 2012 platform of the party, for instance, asked whether the “federal government’s enormous landholdings and control of water in the West could be better used for ranching, mining, or forestry through private ownership.”

  • They favor and promote extractive corporations that profit from public lands under heavily subsidized lease agreements. Trump’s shrinkage of the Utah monuments, guided in part by lobbyists for fossil fuel and uranium companies, reopened the excluded land to mining and drilling. Campaign donations from these concerns trump the wishes of Utah citizens.

  • In the case of Bears Ears, they side with San Juan County’s minority white citizens while excluding majority Native contributions (San Juan County demographics: 41.5% White, 49.4% Native American)?

If these are the reasons behind the opposition, our representatives should simply state them. Resorting to lies amounts to a monumental fraud.

Scott Abbott

Scott Abbott is a Utah Valley University professor of integrated studies, philosophy and humanities.

Sam Rushforth

Sam Rushforth is dean emeritus, College of Science, Utah Valley University. They are the co-authors of “Wild Rides and Wildflowers: Philosophy and Botany with Bikes.”