Feb 11 2019
Myth: Senator Lee was the only reason the lands package didn’t pass in December.
Fact: In December, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee attempted to pass an approximately 700-page omnibus lands package without any debate or ability to offer amendments and with the consent of all 100 Senators. Senator Lee, along with a handful of other Senators, first wished to read the bill that most Senators had never seen in its entirety and weigh its contents on whether it was something he could support. He was not the only Senator that objected to considering the bill in the 11th-hour with no time to review, debate, or amend.
Myth: Senator Lee opposes all public lands.
Fact: Senator Lee believes that our nation’s geological treasures should be protected and that public lands should be accessible for public recreation, use, and enjoyment. He also believes that not all public lands must be federal public lands. States and local communities are more knowledgeable on how to properly maintain and use these lands that are in their own backyards and directly impact their livelihood. In contrast, the federal government has a poor track record with little accountability, mismanagement, and maintenance backlogs.
Decisions about how best to use and care for local lands are almost always best handled by those that are physically closest to the land. Not only do they have a financial interest to its successful management and an ancestral tie to its proper preservation, but also they are able to more quickly correct mistakes as local and state officials are fellow neighbors to these lands and are more easily held accountable for their successful management through local oversight and re-election.
Thus, when Senator Lee fights restrictive land designations and increases in the federal land estate, it is because he sees how federal land hurts counties and communities in Utah and how those designations often silence collaborative, local means of balancing multiple land-use interests. It is precisely because of his love for the land of Utah and a desire to see it taken care of that he has fought for proper debate of this lands package. People cannot love what they do not know, and when land is locked up, it cannot be loved and protected in the way only generations of Utahns could.
Myth: Senator Lee opposes the sportsman package
Fact: Senator Lee supports the sportsman package and would vote for it if it were a stand alone bill.
Myth: Senator Lee opposes the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund because he doesn’t want to take care of public lands.
Fact: The money in the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) goes almost entirely to acquiring new federal land, while the land the federal government already owns is in disrepair. It is irresponsible to buy a second home if you can’t pay the mortgage on the first one. There is currently an $18.6 billion maintenance backlog on federal lands, and contained within that is an $11.6 billion maintenance backlog on National Park land.
When the LWCF was first established, the states received 60% of the funds. However, that requirement was short lived and over the course of the LWCF’s 55-year history the states have received only roughly 25% of the program’s funding.  The vast majority of the federal government’s 75% share has gone to land acquisition.
Not only does the lands package do nothing to address our maintenance backlog or refocus the program on state purposes rather than federal land acquisition, but also it reauthorizes the program permanently. When a program is permanently reauthorized, Congress no longer has regular opportunities to evaluate the program and amend it as needed.
Myth: The Emery County Lands bill creates designations that “would prevent a future president from creating up to a 1.5 million acre national monument [in the county].”
Fact: The Emery County bill was meant to be the culmination of 25 years of negotiations and discussions with the goal to prevent the designation of a national monument in Emery County, like the ones designated in San Juan County (Bears Ears) and Kane County (Grand-Staircase Escalante). This bill provides no such guarantee, and in fact even opens up the door to it happening in the future. The Antiquities Act – the law that allows presidents to designate monuments by fiat – is still very much on the books. The land in Emery County that this bill designates as federal wilderness land is thus still subject to a unilateral presidential national monument designation.
In order to reform this bill, and make it better for the people of his great state, Senator Lee offered an amendment which would have:
- Struck some of the wilderness land designations that had been added at the last minute in December after the bill had already passed the ENR Committee;
- Eliminated the provision that would prevent any new roads from being built in the recreation area; and
- Provided an Antiquities Act exemption for Emery County.
If the people of Utah are willing to designate hundreds of acres of land in their state as wilderness in the hope that it will dissuade radical environmentalists from calling for a massive national monument designation in that same county, then they should at least be given that certainty in exchange for their good faith willingness to compromise.
Myth: Senator Lee opposed all the bills in the lands package.
Fact: Senator Lee supports several bills in the lands package, including several he co-sponsored, and several important Utah-specific priorities, such as the recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike and the opening up of federal lands for sportsmen to hunt, fish, and recreate. Here are a few other examples.
- Public Purpose Conveyance to City of Hyde Park, Utah
- Would convey an 80-acre parcel of BLM land so the city can install an underground water tank and pipeline and create a trailhead for the future Bonneville Shoreline Trail
- Juab County Conveyance
- Would direct the Forest Service to convey 2.61 acres to Juab County for a work center
- Helium Extraction
- Would ensure that helium leases on federal lands are treated the same as oil and gas leases
- Deshutes Canyon-Steelhead Falls Wilderness Study Area boundary adjustment, Oregon
- Would release 832 acres from a Wilderness Study Area for fire prevention and response activities
- Lake Fannin land conveyance
- Would convey 2,025 acres of National Forest System land to Fannin County, Texas
- Owyhee Wilderness Areas boundary modifications
- Would reduce some of the boundaries of certain wilderness areas in Idaho
- Denali National Park and Preserve natural gas pipeline
- Would expand the area in Denali National Park where the National Park Service may issue right-of-way permits for natural gas/utility pipelines
- Federal Action Transparency
- Would require a publicly available report every year on the amount of fees and other expenses awarded during the preceding fiscal year under the Equal Access to Justice Act
- Good Samaritan Search and Recovery Act
- Would require the Department of Interior and Forest Service to expedite access to federal lands for search and recovery missions conducted by certain people or organizations
Myth: Senator Lee’s opposition to the lands package prevented the passage of the Utah Navajo Water Settlement.
Fact: Senator Lee understands how important the Utah-Navajo Water Settlement is for the state. However, it was never included in the lands package. The House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee only included legislation that was within their committees’ jurisdiction, meaning the Utah-Navajo settlement which went through Indian Affairs Committee, was never an option for inclusion. Additionally, the measure would have not likely passed the House separately without additional work due to a budget rule.
Myth: Senator Lee’s opposition to the Lands Package prevented the resolution renaming the North Ogden Department of Veteran’s Affairs Outstation as the Major Brent Taylor Vet Center Outstation.
Fact: Senator Lee shepherded this resolution through the Senate; it was never a part of the lands package. The resolution passed the Senate (2/5/2019) when Senator Lee himself called it up to be passed by Unanimous Consent, and no one objected.