What has been called the second slap in the face to the Outdoor Retailers conventions in Utah, the Senate passed a resolution Wednesday asking the U.S. Congress to reduce the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.
The Legislature has already passed – over the objections of Democrats – a resolution asking President Donald Trump to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument designation.
What’s different about the Staircase is that it was made a national monument 20 years ago by then-Democratic President Bill Clinton.
It has been operating as a monument since then, and some tourism-associated groups in Escalante and elsewhere don’t want the Staircase’s size reduced.
GOP Utah leaders hope that Trump will act soon on rescinding former President Barack Obama’s Bears Ears action last December.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, met with Trump this week and says they talked about the Bears Ears rescission – not necessarily the request to reduce the size of the Staircase.
Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, carried Rep. Mike Noel’s bill in the upper body.
He said the Staircase is 1.9 million acres, larger than all the five national parks in Utah combined – a great overreach of presidential authority.
Four of the five Senate Democrats voted against HCR12. But Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, voted for it. It passed, 24-4.
The Outdoor Retailers convention in the Salt Palace brings an estimated $20 million into the local economy.
But several GOP senators downplayed the possibility that the convention would leave – even though several leaders of the industry have called on the group to leave Utah.
Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, said the Staircase may see some pack packers coming in, but they probably wouldn’t even stay in local motels, but stay in their “pup tents.”
Hinkins, who works in the coal-mine production industry, said that if the Staircase had not been made a national monument, an underground coal mine would have opened – impacting just 100 acres above ground – that could have provided 300 to 500 full-time jobs.
In addition, he said, a coal-fired power plant could have been built there; it would have provided another 200 to 500 jobs.
While it is not sure that reducing the size of the Staircase could bring those jobs in 20 yearslater, Okerlund said a “sincere” conversation with federal officials – should Congress agree to reduce the Staircase’s size – could well make the economy in the area better, all while protecting legitimate preservation areas.
Okerlund said he hopes the Outdoor Retailers will stay in Utah.
But Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, said he doesn’t feel state officials have been sincere – both in passing the Bears Ears rescission and now with reducing the Staircase.
In any case, Utah can’t afford to take over control of all this federal land in the state – it could bankrupt the state, harm school children, and lead to drilling and more drilling in attempts to gain some money from oil production.
“Let’s put aside this foolishness of the last generation” in fighting national monuments and work to make a better economy for southern Utah, he said.