Congressman Jason Chaffetz slammed President Obama for a “midnight monument” land grab after the president designated two western monuments in Utah and Nevada.
The White House said Wednesday that the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah will cover more than 1 million acres of land, protecting “land that is considered sacred and is home to an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites," The Washington Post reported.
The Gold Butte National Monument will cover 300,000 acres in Nevada just outside Las Vegas, protecting “a scenic and ecologically fragile area,” the Post said.
The expansion comes in the final days of Obama’s presidency.
While it appears to be a victory for him, Native American tribes and conservationists, that’s not the case for Republican leaders and rural residents, who feel the monuments amount to a federal land grab and “add another layer of unnecessary federal control and close the area to new energy development,” the Post noted.
Chaffetz (R-Utah) released a statement Wednesday showing his outrage toward Obama’s national monument designations.
“President Obama’s unilateral decision to invoke the Antiquities Act in Utah politicizes a long-simmering conflict. This unfortunate act threatens to further inflame controversies that were near resolution,” Chaffetz said in the statement.
“The midnight move is a slap in the face to the people of Utah, attempting to silence the voices of those who will bear the heavy burden it imposes,” he added. “Furthermore, the decision is a major break with protocol previously followed by this administration. It does not have the support of the Governor, a single member of the state’s Congressional delegation, nor any local elected officials or state legislators who represent the area.
“After years of painstaking negotiations with a diverse coalition, Utah had a comprehensive bipartisan solution on the table that would have protected the Bears Ears and provided a balanced solution,” Chaffetz said.
“Instead, the president’s midnight proclamation cherry picked provisions of the Public Lands Initiative and disregarded the economic development and multi-use provisions necessary for a balanced compromise,” he added. “In reality, a win-win solution never really had a chance as the very threat of the Antiquities Act prevented a serious negotiation with the stakeholders of PLI — many of whom never wanted a compromise to begin with.”
Utah and Nevada are areas of cultural importance to Native Americans and have been in the middle of debates regarding the control of public land in the West, the Los Angeles Times noted.
The designation of these monuments protects these areas from development such as mining, oil, and gas production.
These designations come after past accusations that the federal government —which controls half of the land in the West — has put up barriers that have prevented economic development.
Obama said in a statement that the monuments will “protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archaeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes.”
Both national monuments will also be open for recreation.
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