And the environmental movement is still with us, although without the purity and idealism and common sense of its former, original self.
You see, the radical wing of the environmental movement today has become a a multibillion-dollar juggernaut that uses its cultural and economic influence to rig the game against hard-working Americans, and against rural America in particular.
It is an alliance of privilege between a new class of royalty – sure, we don’t have the titles of nobility that existed in the old country, but this is a new class of royalty – one consisting of, among others, celebrities, activists, and corporate elites who act boldly in the name of wanting to save the Earth at the expense of our rural communities and of the hardworking Americans who live there.
They delight in seeing vast swaths of untouched lands, fulfilling their idyllic notions of the West. You see, people on the coasts, people in many of these heavily populated areas people – especially in our nation’s capital – sometimes actually refer to us in the West as “the square states.” I’m sure there’s a compliment in there somewhere. Maybe it’s easier for them to recognize us because of our shapes – because of the geometric features of our states compared to theirs. But in the so-called square states – they like this abstract concept of there being a lot of land. Land that’s just there, that’s just sitting, that’s open, that’s untouched, that cannot be accessed. It’s a little bit like a sand trap on a golf course. You can’t go in there. If you ever have to, you’ve got to take a rake with you, rake your way in, rake your way out. Change, alter, improve nothing.
They envision a landscape dotted only with picturesque resort towns that exist for their pleasure: destinations where they can jet in, spend a few days at the cabin and the shops, take a few pictures of some animals, and then retreat to their elite enclaves on the coasts.
It’s a charming picture – for them. Also a charming picture for them is the idea of vast swaths of untouched land that they themselves may never visit, but they nonetheless like the fact that they themselves may never visit, and they especially like the fact that we who live close to that land may never visit.
Less charming is the picture for the people who actually live in these areas full time, who call those areas their home. While tourism has of course contributed much to the West – and while we celebrate and encourage and are very enthusiastic about tourism in Utah – communities can’t survive on tourism alone.
It is a complement to and not a substitute for broader economic development and broader economic opportunities.
We ought not limit the job opportunities in our rural regions to just one industry.
Rural Americans want what all Americans want: They want a dignified, decent-paying job, one that allows them to support their family. They want a family to love and to support. They want a healthy community whose future is determined by local residents coming together as members of a combined community – not by their self-styled betters who operate in their ivory towers thousands of miles away, sitting on papers, mountains of papers, bounded only by red tape.
But most of all, Americans want respect. That’s the missing ingredient, the absence of which drives so much of the anger and the heartbreak of our politics today.
The greatness of the American project was that it respected ordinary people enough to give them control of their government, starting with the land on which they lived.
That respect is too often missing, too often absent, too often almost unnoticeable in today’s distant, condescending government.
Our immediate task then is to rein in that government – and yes, I’m talking about that government in Washington, D.C. – and reclaim a space for ordinary Americans to live and prosper and succeed and thrive and reproduce in freedom.
I am working on three bills to do just that.
The first will combat the abuses of the Antiquities Act.
Passed in 1906, this law authorizes the president of the United States unilaterally to designate national monuments on federal lands with the intent of protecting historic landmarks and archaeological sites.
You see, the idea behind this was that there were some places on federal public land that might be looted, that might be destroyed. And it was a way to provide immediate protection from that type of destruction. So the idea was to give the president of the United States this power so that it can be exercised: if you see something really important on federal public land – designate it; let’s get it protected. These protections sound beneficial and in many ways they can be, but they also impose severe significant restrictions and regulations on the surrounding localities.
You see, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about the Antiquities Act, what it does, and what it doesn’t do, or the creation and the un-designation or the reduction of a designation of a national monument. People think that is changing the nature of the ownership of the land. It doesn’t generally do that.
Usually we’re talking about federal land and taking it from one level of classification to another, one level of federal control to an entirely different, tighter level of federal control. One but more deliberately excludes local residents, one that couldn’t care less about what local residents have to say about that very land. That’s why we find it so concerning. And so this is the very reason why that law – that same law, the same Antiquities Act passed in 1906 – contains protections in it. It directly limits the president in his exercise of his power to designate national monuments. And it tells him that he has to do so in the “smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
Sounds great – and would be great if it were followed and respected, if the spirit of that were truly followed, respected and understood in Washington, D.C. Sadly, that hasn’t always been the case.
But as Utahns specifically are all too aware, recent presidents have largely disregarded this particular feature of the law – this particularly important part of the law. They have wielded it more as a political tool to appease friendly interest groups and wealthy donors from the coasts more than they have used it as a genuine preservation tool.
Utah, in particular, has suffered from blatant abuses of the Antiquities Act over the last couple of decades.
President Clinton’s sweeping designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996, and President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument on December 28, 2016, just days before he left the Oval Office, monopolized millions of acres across the state. We’re talking about an amount of land that is larger than several U.S. states.
You see, this, I’m convinced, is how some of the people in Washington justify it: “They don’t need all that land. They’re the square states. They have land to spare. We don’t have to worry about some of that land being restricted.”
This is akin to saying we don’t have to worry about what’s dumped in the ocean. “It’s the ocean. It’s big. Dump whatever you want in it” – our environmentalist friends would never say that. We should never allow them to say we’ve got plenty of land – “it doesn’t matter what you do to the locals with that land.”
So you have these two sweeping, stunning abuses of the Antiquities Act. One in 1996. The other in 2016.
They were bad enough by themselves. But what’s worse, neither one of them had approval from Utah’s governor, or from Utah’s state legislature, or from Utah’s congressional delegation, or from the affected county commissioners, or the from affected communities themselves. Neither one of them had the support of any of these constituencies.
And in many cases, particularly as was the case with the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, it occurred entirely by surprise. And it was designated by a president who didn’t even bother to come into or near our state as he was doing it.
So to protect Utah from future abuses of the Antiquities Act, I am introducing the Protecting Utah’s Rural Communities Act, which includes protections similar to those enjoyed by Wyoming and by Alaska.
Now specifically, my bill would prohibit the president from designating or expanding a national monument within the state of Utah unless both Congress and the state legislature pass legislation approving said designation.
Now this would be a great victory for Utahns – a step in the right direction of entrusting them with what should be their land, which is important to their existence and their livelihood.
The second bill I plan to introduce is a new Homestead Act – one to help ordinary Americans in the 21st century.
There is already a law on the books called the Recreation and Public Purposes Act – some of you may be familiar with it – which allows the Secretary of the Interior to transfer federal lands to state and local governments and nonprofit groups for certain recreational and public uses.
So we’ve already got that as a template, as a model. We already understand that there are some valid, legitimate reasons for which the federal government ought to hand over certain amounts of federal public land for certain uses. If federal law already recognizes that that’s a good thing to do for those purposes, then why not some other purposes that are every bit as legitimate as if not more legitimate than those purposes, including the recreational purposes mentioned in that earlier legislation? Just think with me here. Imagine with me here for a moment.
What if we used the Recreation and Public Purposes Act as a model for new legislation to facilitate the building of affordable housing, to help alleviate the growing affordable housing crisis facing so many working Utahns?
A “new” Homestead Act could expand the law to allow states, local governments, and individuals to petition the government to use that land for affordable housing … or education… or health care or research.
Utah’s housing prices continue to skyrocket, leaving affordable housing out of reach for an increasing number of poor and middle-class Utah families. Meanwhile, millions and millions of acres of land in Utah sit untouched.
It is important to note here that we are not talking about all federal public lands in Utah that would be on the table for this. In fact there are huge swaths of federal public land in Utah that we are purposely setting aside in this discussion. That would have no part in any of these kinds of reforms. We are not talking about national parks; we are not talking about existing national monuments. We Utahns are certainly not opposed to having picturesque vistas or to preserving national treasures.
Sometimes when we have these discussions, we’re immediately accused of and lampooned as if we were wanting to put a drilling rig under Delicate Arch. This is not what we’re talking about. Those aren’t the lands we’re talking about; those certainly aren’t the uses we’re discussing here.
But we are talking about the ordinary garden-variety land that is just sitting there, unused – unused purposely under a federal stranglehold that helps no one and hurts many, especially the poorest among us.
How much would an infusion of affordable land into our economy help young couples and families being priced out of expensive cities and some of the best suburban school districts?
For that matter, just imagine what opening up some of this land would do for young entrepreneurs, or what it would do to attract existing businesses to expand and to create new jobs.
How many schools, how many churches, how many hospitals, medical research centers, innovation hubs, and affordable homes could we build even on just a tiny fraction of this land?