01.29.18

Grijalva Will Circulate Letter at Tomorrow’s Hearing Urging Sec. Zinke to Declare Bears Ears Monument Off Limits to Extraction

Washington, D.C. – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) will ask members of the Natural Resources Committee at tomorrow’s hearing on the fate of Bears Ears National Monument to sign a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urging him to withdraw the land inside the monument’s traditional, lawful boundaries from new oil, gas and mining claims. The move comes shortly ahead of the Feb. 2 opening of much of the monument to new extraction claims, which could be maintained even when President Trump’s illegal shrinking of the monument is overturned in court.

Tomorrow’s proceedings are technically a continuation of a Jan. 9 hearing on H.R. 4532, Rep. John Curtis’ (R-Utah) bill making Trump’s removal of protections for approximately 85 percent of Bears Ears permanent. President Obama established Bears Ears in 2016 following years of public input, including from five Native American tribes who will testify tomorrow.

The Republican majority did not invite any tribes to speak at the Jan. 9 hearing, prompting Democrats to pursue a seldom-used maneuver known as a “Rule 11 letter” requiring a continuation of the hearing with witnesses identified by the Committee minority. Tomorrow’s hearing marks the fulfillment of that requirement.

Each of the tribes strongly opposes Curtis’ bill and the larger effort to destroy protections for Bears Ears. As Tony Small, vice chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe’s Business Committee, will testify tomorrow, Curtis’ bill “attempts to take a monument designated to protect and preserve tribal cultural and natural resources and turn it into a multi-use area for uranium mining, increased motorized vehicles and increased grazing that would damage these sensitive resources.”

While Rep. Curtis’ bill includes a withdrawal of the areas in question, the language has no effect unless the bill becomes law, which is far from certain given the strong Democratic and tribal opposition to the bill’s other features. A Zinke withdrawal would protect the region now as the bill works its way through Congress.

As the Washington Post has noted, the areas Trump cut out of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument with last year’s unlawful executive order “contain large deposits of coal, uranium, oil and gas.” According to recent reports in the New York Times (here) and Washington Post (here), foreign mining companies are eager for the opportunity to purchase development rights throughout the area. It is not clear that, once granted, the right to develop such projects would be rescinded even after a court restores a monument’s boundaries.

Even many Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Curtis and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert*, have said they do not want to see extraction in Bears Ears. Grijalva’s letter gives lawmakers a chance to communicate that wish directly to Zinke.

“If we’re serious about preventing mining and drilling in Bears Ears, the administration needs to take concrete action now, not point to a bill that may not cross the finish line,” Grijalva said today. “Secretary Zinke needs to step up, not just pay lip service, and my colleagues can help push him in the right direction. We’ll see who means what they say about protecting this land.”

* – See e.g. their comments during the Jan. 9, 2018, hearing on Rep. Curtis’ H.R. 4532 at http://democrats-naturalresources.house.gov/hearings/hearing-on-hr-4532-1-9-18.

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