By Sen. Orrin Hatch
Utah is one of the most beautiful places on earth. In their latest attack on the rural West, President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced unauthorized and unlimited “Wild Lands” designations in western states. Federal law is clear that “wilderness” can be designated only by Congress, but the President has the audacity to hope that this subtle wording change, from “wilderness to “Wild Lands,” will let him act without constraint in closing off vast public lands to the public who own them. Utahns and other Americans living in the West, with their way of life at stake, hope he’s wrong, and I will be introducing legislation to stop him.
The recent announcement demonstrates brazen contempt for the rule of law. These lands belong to the people, not to federal land managers. The Wilderness Act passed in 1964 clearly gives Congress authority over these lands, and Congress has not approved this action. Federal law also requires input from local and state officials on these matters. Furthermore, the President’s announcement blatantly disregards agreements the federal government has stricken with Utah and other states to keep this kind of action from happening. Finally, it reverses comprehensive Resource Management Plans that have taken decades and hundreds of millions of dollars to complete.
The Obama Administration is simply ignoring these concrete limits on his power. This new policy shows blatant disregard for Utahns way of life that has been a backbone of American culture. Utah’s rural communities represent what is best about America, what is best about families, what is best about hard work, and what is best about the moral values necessary to hold any democracy together. For rural areas to survive, they must be allowed to pursue basic activities that sustain rural economies: energy development, ranching, hunting, and access to these public lands on established roads.
A survey of energy companies indicates that new federal constraints have removed about $2.8 billion in investment from the Rockies. More than 70 percent of the industry respondents blamed new federal policies for the trend, and 89 percent of the companies will continue to divert investment from the Rockies until regulations become less hostile. That was before the President’s latest “Wild Lands” announcement which will be even worse for Utah jobs.
In a time when we must work to become less dependent on foreign oil, this latest attack on the rural West is bad news for our nation, and it will contribute to high gas prices. But rural families are the hardest hit. In a letter I received from a family in rural Utah, they wrote, “As the new presidential administration and new head of the Department of the Interior took over, the oil and gas production companies slowed their drilling and production programs drastically. The rapid economic change was shocking … We went from being a prospering business to a business that is just hoping we can pay our bills.”
Another young woman in rural Utah wrote: “I was working for Superior Well Services. I was able to have health insurance and life insurance. I had an amazing future in front of me. I was laid off….. Since then, I can’t get medical insurance, I’m behind on all of my bills and the only job I could find is being a waitress at a local café. Where is this change we were promised?”
The “Wild Lands” policy increases uncertainty for every aspect of the rural economy in the West, including mining, ranching, energy production, hunting, and recreational access to our public lands. Is it any wonder the plan was drafted with no outside input other than the one group that would benefit from the plan – extreme environmentalists?
I appreciate the national beauty that Utah has to offer. However, we in Congress will not stand idly by while the President plays a reverse Robin Hood in the West, stealing an important way of life from the many for the benefit of an elite few who want these lands for themselves. I will continue to fight as hard as I can to ensure that does not happen on my watch.