Congressman: My colleagues' national monument claims are disingenuous

Raúl Grijalva: My Republican colleagues are obscuring the fact that they want to give private miners and loggers unfettered access to exploit national monuments.

Arizonans of all political stripes know that our state’s economy depends on outdoor tourism.

More than 6 million people visited the Grand Canyonlast year, to say nothing of the many other national parks, forests and monuments our state is fortunate to include. Maintaining our federally protected public lands is critical – not just to our economy, but to our environment and our way of life.

Unfortunately, a campaign funded by narrow special interests has gained traction in recent years to eliminate protections for many of our special places, including some of the most beautiful and historically significant sites in the country.

Arizona hasn’t been immune to this effort, and a recent move by my Republican counterparts in Washington has highlighted the serious consequences our state could face if this land grab succeeds.

My colleagues hold an extremist view

On June 30, 14 of my House Republican colleagues sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urging him to eliminate monument status for Grand Canyon-Parashant, Ironwood Forest, Sonoran Desert and Vermilion Cliffs national monuments.

Arizona Reps. Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs and Trent Franks joined them, even though they know how important these sites – and others like them – are to Arizonans and Americans everywhere. In their letter, they described the Antiquities Act, the law that gives presidents the authority to designate national monuments, as “tyrannical” and described the creation of recent national monuments as “unfettered land grabs.”

This view puts them on the extreme and unpopular fringe. This year’s Colorado College “Conservation in the West” poll, based on thousands of interviews with representative Westerners, found overwhelming support for national monuments in Arizona and six other neighboring states.

Asked whether existing national monument designations for some public lands protected over the last decade should be kept in place or removed, Arizonans supported keeping them in place, 86- 9.

No, those numbers aren’t a typo. See for yourself if you can make them line up differently.

Their true aim? Unfettered business access

Given that sentiment, why would my Republican colleagues claim they are responding to (of all things) a supposed rising tide of popular opposition to federal public land protections? The short answer is that their true aim – giving mining, logging and drilling companies fast, loose and cheap access to every inch of our public lands – is political poison.

Their cover argument isn’t working either, but that hasn’t stopped them from trying. Nor has it stopped Secretary Zinke and President Trump from launching their misguided “review” of 27 national monuments with an eye to shrinking them or changing their conservation status.

If House Republicans’ stated desire to base monument decisions on public input were genuine, they have their answer. A sample of public comments received during the first comment period on Secretary Zinke’s review, conducted by the Center for Western Priorities, found an astounding 99 percent of commenters in support of retaining current monument protections.

So here’s where we are. My Republican colleagues, representing millions of Arizonans between them, have publicly called for the end of federal protection for four national monuments, a position that doesn’t crack 10 percent in the best available polling, runs counter to the stated opinions of virtually all citizens participating in the review, and threatens lasting damage to our state’s economic future.

Listen to locals: Drop this quest

What should now be obvious is that they’re doing this as part of a sham review process cooked up as cover for giving our public resources to private energy companies on the cheap.

They claim to be acting in the public interest. I can’t see how that’s the case, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

More drilling, more mining and more logging mean less public access. If you’ve sold off parcels of land to private interests, or allowed them to cover public lands with well pads and open-pit mines, you can’t keep claiming they are open for hunting, fishing, hiking or any other use.

When Secretary Zinke talks about “energy dominance” and his aides talk about our Department of the Interior being “in the energy business” – not the conservation or recreation business, apparently – that’s the future they’re describing.

Local leaders like the Pima County Board of Supervisors, whom I have served for many happy years, have come out publicly against this Republican attack on our public lands. If the Republican Party means anything it says about listening to local input, my colleagues will respect the wishes of the board and the many others who stand with us and put a stop to this campaign.

By:  Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva
Source: azcentral.com