Congress needs to have final word on Bears Ears
DUST IN THE WIND
by Bill Boyle
With the second visit in less than a year by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, it is another big week in San Juan County.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent Monday and Tuesday in San Juan County as part of a four-day tour of Utah.
This follows on the heels of a four-day visit in July, 2016 by then Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Six months after the first visit, President Barack Obama designated the 1.35-million acre Bears Ears National Monument.
The Antiquities Act is the enabling legislation that was used by Obama to make the unilateral executive branch decision.
Now, President Donald Trump has ordered a review of presidential use of the Antiquities Act over the past 21 years, including the creation of Bears Ears.
This review process will take 45 days. The end result is that the executive branch of government could make another executive decision, this time to cut back on the boundaries of Bears Ears or eliminate the monument designation entirely.
An army of attorneys are just waiting for such an action. The arguments are long on both sides about whether or not the President can change such a designation.
The subsequent legal challenges that would accompany another executive branch decision could take several years to adjudicate.
From my perspective, a long and drawn out legal challenge would be the absolute worse case scenario for the area.
Another possible outcome of an executive branch decision is that it could be overturned the next time a member of the Democratic Party takes a seat in the Oval Office.
This happens every time a new party controls the White House. One of the first acts of a new party in power is to change the US participation in funding for abortion programs administered through the United Nations.
It would be a tragedy if that were to happen with public land issues. Frankly, these issues need to be resolved and settled one way or another.
We need to understand that any solution that involves another decision by the executive branch is a short-term solution. I think that the real long-term solution to this issue is through a legislative Congressional action.
In fact, I predict that one of the outcomes of Secretary Zinke’s 45-day review is a recommendation that Congress readdress the Antiquities Act directly.
Congress clearly has the authority to resolve these issues once and for all. There are no legal arguments if Congress acts and the president signs the legislation.
I believe that now may be the time for Congress to act, not just on the Antiquities Act, but on the public lands in southern Utah.
And I say that knowing that the prospect will be very concerning to many local residents, particularly those who were involved in the most recent legislative attempt to address the issue.
The process that led to the Public Lands Initiative (PLI), which was sponsored by Utah Congressmen Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop, was heavily influenced by President Obama’s threat of executive action.
Obama’s threat of an Antiquities Act designation loomed over every step of the PLI process and heavily influenced the final PLI recommendation.
Many San Juan County residents were extremely frustrated that the final PLI proposal did not include many important features of the locally-produced recommendation.
However, if a bill such as the PLI were to be introduced now, it would not be influenced by the threat of executive action from a Democratic president.
It is a new day in Washington DC. Because the Republican Party holds all three houses (White House, House of Representatives and Senate), the threat of executive action is gone, at least until the next election.
As a result, I hope a long-term legislative solution can be developed for the spectacular public lands in San Juan County. This will make moot any future threats of executive action through use of the Antiquities Act.
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San Juan Record contributor Jim Stiles is facing a host of legal bills related to articles he wrote about former Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson in his online newspaper, the Canyon Country Zephyr.
If you are interested in defending First Amendment rights, you may consider a contribution to Moab Area Citizens for Transparency, at P.O. Box 672, Moab, UT 84532.
An online site, moab84532.wixsite.com/moabtransparency , provides more information and gives options to contribute.
After her contract as Moab City Manager was terminated, Davidson filed a lawsuit against Jim and four other area residents, alleging that she was defamed by comments they made about her.
Even though the lawsuit was dismissed by Seventh District Judge Lyle Anderson, Davidson has formally appealed the decision to dismiss Jim from the lawsuit. As a result, the legal bills continue to grow.
Janet Buckingham, who is one of the five defendants, is organizing the fundraising effort.
Buckingham writes, “To be sure, this is a First Amendment issue. None of the defendants did any more than print the facts or express an opinion. Judge Anderson agreed in his dismissals, stating, after all, ‘This is America.’”
A current estimate to see this case through the appeals process is $10,000!
Jim Stiles is a wonderful journalist and a good friend. As readers already know, he is eloquent, passionate, brutally honest, and strongly opinionated.
Whether or not you agree with Jim, you have to respect his tenacity and his right to express an opinion. It would be a tragedy if strong, clear voices are silenced because of the financial threat of legal action. I hope you will consider a contribution.