Commentary: Romney is a solid conservative on public lands issues

Conservative Republicans in Utah have been angry at Sen. Mitt Romney for voting to boot former Pres. Trump out of office. He has also taken moderate positions on other issues that a lot of conservatives don’t like.

But on one key issue important to conservatives – public lands – Romney has been a champ. Utah Republicans ought to be pleased with Romney’s efforts to protect Utah’s interests on public lands and energy.

Romney hasn’t been alone. The rest of the Utah delegation, along with Gov. Spencer Cox, have been pro-active in expressing concern about the Biden administration’s early actions on public lands. They have especially demanded that a legislative solution, involving all stakeholders, determine the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante Canyons and Bears Ears as national monuments.  

They were able to get a commitment from new Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to visit Utah and listen to all stakeholders before determining the status of the monuments. And that was after Romney and Sen. Mike Lee voted against Haaland as Interior Secretary over concerns about her positions on public lands and the Green New Deal.

Romney has also criticized the Biden administration’s moratorium on new federal oil and gas permits.  And he has urged Biden to clarify his executive order putting restrictions on 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, saying the plan displays a “dangerous thoughtlessness.”

Romney’s positions on these issues likely carries extra weight because he is viewed as a moderate, one of the few Republican senators who may vote with Biden on issues important to the administration. Biden, no doubt, has an incentive to develop and maintain a good relationship with Romney.

These lands and energy issues are early indications of how the Biden administration will treat public lands states. These matters will help define Biden’s image and relationships with Utah and a number of other western states. They will also test Biden’s relationship with Romney. As federal landlord, Biden has the ability to run roughshod over the state if he chooses. But if he does, he will provoke some major battles and a great deal of ill will.

Romney’s firm positions on energy and public lands issues ought to please conservatives who have mistrusted him on other matters.