House Bill Turns Utah's Public Lands Over to the State

If you don’t think it’s a priority for Republicans to get rid of our federal public lands, think again.

Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge remains under seige, with militants bulldozing roads unfettered by the federal government. Armed individuals from other states have joined them and now they want to spread the armed standoff throughout the West.

They are pressuring ranchers to stop paying federal grazing fees, offering to protect them by confronting federal pushback with threats of violence, says the Center for Biological Diversity, which is on the ground coordinating citizen protests. "They’ve moved from illegally seizing Malheur to coordinating an active terror network whose openly stated aim is to overthrow the federal government and steal our public lands," says the Center. Locals are traumatized by the armed occupation, living in fear of the gun-toting thugs, and community leaders – faced with death threats and vandalism – have sent their families out of town for safety.

Read our article, What’s Behind the Standoff at Oregon’s Wildlife Refuge.

Meanwhile, a bill introduced in Congress supports their efforts – the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act. Sponsored by Reps Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Rob Bishop (R-UT), both heavily funded by the oil industry, it turns 18 million acres over to the private sector for rampant extraction by handing it to the state.

It downgrades protection for wilderness quality lands, creates new oil and gas drilling zones that are exempt from environmental protection, and includes Bundy-style public land giveaways, reports ClimateProgress. Our public lands would be sold to the highest bidder.

Grazing, for example, would continue unabetted, regardless of its impact on the ecosystem. And while 2.2 million acres of new "wilderness" would be established, it would not protect the land as wilderness. Drilling would be allowed up to the border and there would be no regulations on air and water pollution.

Desolation Canyon, the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states still waiting for that designation, is one of the areas the Reps tempted the local conservation community with to get their buy-in:

Desolation Canyon Utah

"Under the guise of collaboration and the creation of new public lands, Rep. Bishop has crafted a bill complete with loopholes, land seizures, and favors for his financial supporters in the fossil fuel sector," notes ClimateProgress.

This comes after the House and Senate voted (along party lines) to repeal EPA’s Waters of the United States rule calling it overreach to protects streams, rivers and lakes from pollution. President Obama vetoed it, of course.

The rule restores protection for two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands, safeguarding drinking water supplies for a third of Americans, and for ecosystems. About 55% of US streams and rivers are degraded from pollution, where people can’t drink the water or even swim in it. State laws are often weak and lack enforcement as we are seeing in Flint, Michigan.

In another win for the Obama administration, a federal appeals court upheld the Labor Department’s rule that protects coal miners from exposure to coal dust – which causes black lung disease – rejecting industry challenges.

Read, Going to Extremes: The anti-government extremism behind the growing movement to seize America’s public lands:

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