Utah Test and Training Range, Gold King Mine Spill, and Utah Art Museums: 3 Hatch Bills that Passed in the Closing Hours of the 114th Congress

Last Friday night, just prior to the close of the 114th Congress, three of Senator Hatch’s most critical bills passed unanimously and are now headed to the President’s desk.

These three pieces of legislation address some of Utah’s most urgent priorities, including authorization of the land transfer for the Utah Test and Training Range, provisions to hold the EPA Accountable for the Gold King Mine spill, and much-needed protections for the foreign art on display in Utah’s art museums.

“My focus in the Senate has always been to deliver legislative results that reflect Utah’s values,” Hatch said. “I’m pleased to have done so on a wide range of issues in the 114th Congress. With landmark reforms that give local leaders in Utah decision-making power over education, a long-term infrastructure plan  that enables Utah to complete major highway projects without raising taxes or adding a dime to the deficit, a health bill that will allow rural Utahns to access the same high-quality health care services patients receive in large metropolitan hospitals, and important tech and innovation legislation that supports jobs all over the state of Utah—just to name a few—I’ve sought to bring people together, find areas of common ground, and develop serious solutions to the problems Utahns face. If we were able to achieve this much in a divided government with a President who rarely sought to work with Congress, imagine what we can achieve with a President eager to work with us.”

Utah Test and Training Range Enhancement

After several years of work behind the scenes with local leaders in Utah, Senator Hatch was able to see his Utah Test and Training Range enhancement proposal included in the National Defense Authorization Act. The state-federal West Deseret land exchange covers 625,643 acres, and is necessary to accommodate the needs of 5th Generation Aircraft and Weapons like the F-35. The proposal will add additional resources and revenue to our public school system by enabling the transfer of certain federal lands from the Bureau of Land Management into the state-owned school trust lands system. 

In an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune, Hatch wrote:

The Utah Test and Training Range at Hill Air Force Base (UTTR) provides essential resources and capabilities for the United States Air Force. Here, our service members prepare and learn to adapt to constantly evolving foreign threats by training with the latest “fifth-generation” weapons systems. The F-22 Raptor and the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are among the critical systems that utilize the UTTR. But these new weapons, which are more sophisticated and are steadily entering into operational use, require greater capacity than what the UTTR has provided over the last 60 years.

To retain these important weapons systems in Utah, we need an expansion that maintains public access and upgrades the UTTR. The long-term viability of the UTTR and Hill Air Force Base — one of Utah’s largest employers — depends on it. I have spent much of the last year working on a proposal that will improve the UTTR’s capabilities with minimal effect on land use and access to the land surrounding the range.

I am confident that we can provide the tools to meet our national security needs, generate additional funding for Utah’s public schools and protect Utahns’ access and ability to use public lands surrounding the UTTR.

Hatch’s proposal, along with the rest of the National Defense Authorization Act, with its critical funding for our military families and defense capabilities in Utah and around the world, will be signed into law by President Obama in the coming weeks. You can find out more about Hatch’s proposal here

Holding the EPA Accountable for the Gold King Mine spill

Senator Hatch’s proposal to hold the EPA accountable for the Gold King Mine Spill was included in the Senate’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which passed the Senate late Friday night and will also be signed into law by the President in coming weeks.

“Last year the EPA inadvertently spilled millions of gallons of waste into the Animas River in Colorado, exposing the waterways and surrounding environment to toxic heavy metals,” said Hatch. “This spill had a significant adverse impact on many downstream communities and businesses throughout multiple Western states—including Utah. My proposal holds the EPA accountable by instructing the agency to reimburse the states and tribes that were negatively affected by this disaster.

This legislation expedites payments to state and tribal entities that assumed response costs associated with the Animas River spill and directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work with affected states, communities and tribes on a long-term water quality monitoring program of rivers contaminated by the spill. 

Keeping Borrowed Artwork Safe While Exhibited in the U.S.

One of the final bills considered in the 114th Congress was Senator Hatch’s Cultural Exchange Jurisdictional Immunity Clarification Act, which keeps borrowed artwork safe while on display in the United States. This legislation is particularly important to Utah museums, including the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah, and the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University. 

Lending art for exhibition could expose a foreign government to a lawsuit over art and cultural objects still in the possession of that government. Individual art museums, and the Association of Art Museum Directors, report that this confusion is a disincentive for foreign governments to lend art for exhibition in the United States. The bill states that if a foreign government loans art that is reviewed by the State Department, the exhibition will not be the basis for a lawsuit. 

The Director of the BYU Museum of Art and the Executive Director of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah wrote an op-ed about the importance of this bill:

Salt Lake Tribune: Utah museums need immunity law so Utahns can see more art

In Utah and across America, individuals and families flock to museums to enjoy exhibitions of art and cultural objects. Especially when these works come from around the world, these displays offer an experience that many would never otherwise have and certainly will never forget. Congress is considering legislation to ensure that these opportunities continue.

Our institutions and the Utah Museums Association join hundreds of museums and associations across the country in supporting this legislation. This small bill will reap big benefits for Utahns and Americans everywhere.